Listen to Austin 360 Radio

UT mural cheers McCombs staff

Victor Ren

University of Texas art students changed the workplace environment for staff at the McCombs School of Business by turning a gloomy wall into a skyscape mural.

The windows of nine ground floor offices of the business school faced a weathered concrete wall that blocks natural light. The school put out a call for artists who could update the 147-foot barrier in time for the university’s 2019 commencement.

Take a perfect selfie at these 10 Austin murals

Karen Maness, a UT lecturer and scenic supervisor for UT's Texas Performing Arts, said she applied to direct the project after she was encouraged by design professor Susan Mickey. After she was selected, Maness and her team started work in January.

Maness said the work was a collaboration between many different teams. Rachel Durkin-Drga, the interim executive director of Texas Performing Arts, made the project possible by approving the use of TPA facilities and purchasing agents, while UT construction prepared the mural area.

“It was really exciting designing this while thinking about what people in these offices were experiencing when they looked at this heavy, cumbersome wall,” Maness said. “It felt prison-like. So, for the design, we wanted to create as much atmosphere and distance as possible. We wanted to create something that was interesting as possible, but not screaming at them.”

The finished product was a sky blue wall with shades of orange, red, yellow and pink reflecting off puffy white clouds. Each office window has its own view of sunlight shining on the mural depending on the time of day and weather pattern.

Maness said she handpicked the artists based on their experience and work ethic in the classroom. The team included theater and dance senior Mikaela Kelarek, theatrical design graduate students Tucker Goodman and Iman Corbani, and alumni Ashton Murphy, who graduated from the theater and dance program in May 2018.

Photos: Austin murals where you can do it for the 'gram

“The students were deeply involved once the design was accepted, and I was able to walk away while trusting these team members to realize the vision,” Maness said, adding she was overjoyed to see UT investing in art and recognizing the effect it can have on people’s lives.

Murphy said it was a great learning experience for all the members of the team because they have not worked on a project that had so many environmental setbacks. “We would get set up and it would rain, so we would have to reevaluate if we could paint that day,” Murphy said. “We had to just figure it out, go for it and not have any fear. Karen knew how to start and we would follow her lead.”

Each student involved in the process of the mural was paid and received scholarships for tuition, Murphy said.

After the mural was finished, the team of artists found a note from the staff members that read, “Thank you for turning our offices into sanctuaries.”

McCombs School Marketing Researcher Matt Turner said in a UT College of Fine Arts blog that workers never opened their blinds before this mural. "With the mural in place, we bask in a perpetually gorgeous skyscape. Our blinds are now open,” Turner said.