Upper Campus: Protest Through Painting

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    Photo courtesy of Irene O’Connell.

    Often great art comes from outrage — at least it does for Irene O’Connell, a fourth-year art and Latin American and Latino studies major at Cowell college.

    O’Connell was a main organizer for a project to repaint the Upper Campus water tanks along with Brandon Hayward, a creative writing and poetry major at Kresge, and other UCSC students. The repainted tanks show a series of murals designed by O’Connell that criticize the university’s proposed Long Range Development Plan (LRDP).

    According to the website, voteondesalsc.org, the plan would construct three million square feet of new buildings, including two new colleges, on 240 acres of what is currently a natural reserve for the campus.

    O’Connell is particularly worried that the plan, which intends to accommodate up to 19,500 students by 2020, will jeopardize UCSC’s commitment to promoting sustainable development of several vital natural resources.

    “When you think about bringing in all those students, you have to think about water and energy,” O’Connell said. “We’re in a water crisis.”

    The repainting project was inspired by the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) future hearing on Dec. 5, where a decision will most likely be reached on whether or not the city’s water services should be extended into UCSC’s Upper Campus for its proposed expansion under the LRDP.

    O’Connell wanted to have the repainting completed before the LAFCO hearing on Dec. 5 to call attention to the future of Upper Campus because if the LAFCO approves this water service extension, construction will start.

    Photo courtesy of Irene O’Connell.

    “I had been thinking a lot about some of the incongruencies in official campus language and action, and I wanted to make sure people were at least talking about it,” O’Connell said.

    After the LAFCO hearing on Dec. 5, the group of artists plans to modify the mural in order to include their opinions on the outcome of the decision.

    The current mural art responds to several themes: “desalination, respect for nature, and the UC’s commitment to ‘sustainability,’” O’Connell said.

    O’Connell sees her role in the repainting not just as an artist, but also as an activist who wants to spark new discussion and debate.

    “I found this as an opportunity to realize visual art as a vehicle for raising awareness around an important issue that affects everyone,” O’Connell said.