Arts Collective and Student Senate collaborate on Johnny’s Cave update

Members of the Arts Collective (AC) began work on a mural — designed by senior Avery Andersen and funded by Student Senate — in Johnny’s Cave last Wednesday.

Alyssa Pokharel, a freshman Student Senate member, proposed the idea for a mural as part of Student Senate’s larger effort to renovate Johnny’s Cave. The pool table is another recent Student Senate addition, according to Pokharel.

Once the project was approved by Student Senate and the facilities taskforce, Student Senate asked the AC — a student cohort intended to foster collaboration in the arts — to design and produce the mural. 

The mural project stayed significantly below its budget of $250, in part because the AC was able to use existing supplies, according to Pokharel. Mural projects are not new to the AC; last year then-AC member Gabrielle Eisma painted a mural in the hallway between the Art and Art History Department and the Science Building, and the AC has also done creative work on downtown Grand Rapids’s legal graffiti wall.

“Going forward, I hope to identify other places on campus that students could collaborate on a mural or a different public installation in future years,” said Christine Vermeer, the AC coordinator. 

According to Pokharel, choosing a student group was a deliberate decision to “help amplify student artists on campus.”

Student Senate left most design choices up to the AC but asked that it represent a theme of “‘unity in Christ,’ especially as the 2024 elections come around the corner, and we can foresee tensions between people,” said Pokharel. 

The making of the mural itself is intended to be collaborative. AC members installed the mural together, using instructions from designer Avery Andersen. According to Andersen, the mural was inspired by the work of Sol LeWitt, an American muralist and conceptual artist who gave “written instructions to other artists who will read, interpret and render the design in their unique way.” 

“It’s a very collaborative design, and it speaks a lot to unity,” said Pokharel. 

Although the mural may be threatened by future demolition of the Commons Annex, Student Senate and the AC decided they were willing to invest in an ephemeral work. The mural will likely be destroyed when the Learners Common — a building which will replace both dining halls and Commons Annex — is built. Currently, plans for the Learners Common are on hold. However, Pokharel said she expects the mural to last “three or four years at most.”

Because of the impending demolition, she was hesitant to “ask people to create and invest time into something that’s just coming down anyway.”

Vermeer encouraged her to move forward with the project. According to Vermeer, the AC is “all about encouraging the process of creating over the outcome of creating.” Therefore, Vermeer said, “It’s not essential for the piece to last forever.”