May 19, 2022

Charlie Doodle

Unique Art & Entertainment

Connecting through color, Paint the Tunnel event unites UNC students

4 min read

Walking along the path beneath 11th Avenue on November 5, you could feel the positive energy swirling throughout the 280-foot corridor that links the University of Northern Colorado’s east and west campuses.

In what is often a cold, clammy place, its walls stark white or traversed by scattershot graffiti tags, on that sunny day, interdisciplinary studies senior Grace Cheney’s vision for artwork uniting the university was unfolding in bold murals painted down the length of the 56-year-old tunnel.

Cheney, who is studying psychology and studio art, plans to pursue a career in pediatric art therapy. She hopes the murals will represent UNC’s diverse student body and campus community.

Mural by Emma Lilly and Jacoby Morciglio. (Photo credit Emily Kemme)

As Cheney’s senior project, UNC United: Connecting Through Color allowed students to design their own sections, but she encouraged participants to consider how conjoining panels could represent both the campus and the contributing artist.

“It worked, in part because of having a smaller color palate to unify the tunnel. You can still see the individualized works but they are in unison because of color,” Cheney said.

Working with faculty representative, John Lake, visiting director of UNC Galleries, Cheney made a public call for art and with Lake, juried the designs. Of 35 applications received, the project ended up filling 32 available spaces with 25 unique designs. Some students worked together to combine designs; others collaborated in groups to work on one mural.

The day-long event was funded from student fees and cost $2,000, covering paint, brushes, coffee and refreshments.

Photos of the completed tunnel beneath 11th Avenue connecting UNC’s east and west campuses. (Photo credit Emily Kemme)

Evan Welch, executive director of UNC’s Office of Student Life, said projects like this are what make the university unique. “We provide opportunities to develop a sense of belonging on campus, for students to find their niche with activities outside of classrooms that develop learning and growth.”

Welch said his office partners with students and other academic departments to provide funding for students to live out their passion. From the upcoming UNC African Students United’s Taste of Africa event at the Union Colony Civic Center later this month, to paying for sheet music or licensing for a play, “It’s a chance to live out a little of what they may do someday.”

This is not the first time the connector tunnel has been a student art focus, he said.

The tunnel was constructed in 1965, but the first effort to embellish it dates to April 8, 2010, when a collaboration between the UNC Program Council, fraternity and sorority life, student senate and other campus student leadership organizations worked to create a Bear Pride UNC mural. For the last ten years, tunnel painting events have occurred approximately every three years. A similar project had been discussed two years ago, but the pandemic interfered.

Welch acknowledges that when the tunnel is painted, it keeps the graffiti out. He believes that’s due to artistic respect for another’s art. It’s one of his favorite projects.

Photography student, Emma Lilly and Jacoby Morciglio, a psychology major, affix one of Lilly’s photos with wallpaper glue to the tunnel’s concrete walls. Lilly said the photos she takes are inspired by Greeley and its alleyways. They’re a little grungy.” (Photo credit Emily Kemme)

“There’s the excitement and passion from our theater, art and design students, and the importance of community art — being able to express oneself in a medium that’s not pen and paper, that’s not paint and canvas, it’s concrete beneath 11th Avenue.”

A wide range of study disciplines were represented by volunteer students.

Heather Diviness, a sophomore art education major, submitted a design entitled Summit Mountains. She was joined by Caroline LaPrade, an ASL & Interpreting major who said she loves to paint, and Zeah Loren, a senior acting major, who was inspired to join in even though she wasn’t attired for the potentially messy activity. “I happened to be walking by and saw there was some paint and wanted to do something with this new art installment,” Loren said.

Across the tunnel, photography student Emma Lilly and Jacoby Morciglio, a psychology major, affixed Lilly’s photos with wallpaper glue to the concrete walls. As they brushed glue over a photo Lilly titled, “Three Figures,” she explained the figures were ghosts — or a memory. “The photos I take are inspired by Greeley and its alleyways. They’re a little grungy.”

Photos of the completed tunnel beneath 11th Avenue connecting UNC’s east and west campuses. (Photo credit Emily Kemme)

Raquel Eduardo-Nuñez filled her space with two profiles facing each other, the sky a Pride flag. “There are different shades of skin tones falling from the sky,” she explained. “The message is spreading love from the sky, shouting it loud and proud. Everybody deserves love.”

Welch said watching other humans take pictures out of their minds is inspiring, and maybe there’s a bit of innocence. “To see the art is wonderful, but the straight up joy on the artist’s faces, the event is just as impactful as the art itself,” he said.

Cheney organized the painting event to be completed in one day because the tunnel is an accessibility point for students and she didn’t want it to be closed long. She hopes the art corridor represents both the students and campus community, while making the tunnel a safe, inviting environment.

Connecting through color: Paint the Tunnel event unites UNC students

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