December 3, 2019

Art + business: New Lyft mural project gives students experience of being for-hire artists

Six Wayne State art students are learning how to work with clients in a new mural project, which also functions as a directed study course.

The Wayne State University Office of Economic and Community Development partnered with Lyft to sponsor the mural, which will be featured at the ride share company’s new designated pickup and drop-off zone behind the WSU Press building. The space will also include a bench with Lyft’s signature pink color, as well as signs to make it easy for drivers and passengers to find. The mural will officially be unveiled during Midtown’s popular Noel Night festival.

“In conversations, we started brainstorming ways to activate the alley and make it a more inviting and interesting walkway,” said Emily Thompson, Wayne State’s director of economic and community development. “It's an amazing opportunity from a design perspective, but they’ve also gotten the experience of being a for-hire artist.

“Each student pitched a concept, and they voted together to choose one to share with us. The mural committee worked with them to choose one and refine it.”

Wayne State's Office of Economic and Community Development partnered with Lyft to sponsor the mural, which will be featured at the ride share company’s new designated pickup and drop-off zone behind the WSU Press building. Photos courtesy Christopher Scalise.

The final concept was approved in mid-October. The student participants included Anne Armbruster, Saylem Bryant, Inna Golovata, Beth Maddens, Roy Sproule and Jeni Wheeler. Wheeler said she ended up taking up the role of group coordinator, which was more challenging than she anticipated.

“It’s moving faster now that we’ve been able to coordinate everyone working at the same time,” said Wheeler. “It’s a really big project to have done in a semester.

“The first month of the project were things that were not actually related to art. It was a bit of a surprise to me. The design process took time, but the acquisition process of resources took a lot more time than we expected.”

Early winter weather also delayed the project. Most of the mural was painted the week of Thanksgiving, Wheeler said.

“It’s been intimidating for everyone at times,” she said. “It’s been tricky, with multiple professional entities involved. I have some business and management background, but I’ve never organized something with so many companies in one project.”

Most of the students haven’t had a lot of experience working with companies and business owners, Wheeler said. “It’s a self-directed class, so we were kind of figuring it out as we go.”

“It was a learning process for everyone,” said Margi Weir, associate professor of painting and drawing. “I think the students would have preferred to get to the actual painting a lot sooner. In the real world, when you work with companies, this kind of thing is really common.”

Wheeler said even having some experience, she still learned a great deal from working with multiple professional entities.

“I’ve made big paintings, and I knew the timeline would be crunched right away,” Wheeler said. “Committees and companies don’t know what’s involved in a mural painting. Now, I would have the confidence to speak up.”

“I’ve seen several of the students really rise to the challenge and be very responsible about ordering supplies and meeting deadlines,” Weir said. “I’m really proud of them. It’s been a wonderful preliminary project that will introduce an actual class in the next couple of years.”

Weir said it’s been helpful to use this project as a learning experience for teaching the full class in the future.

“There’s so much energy around the project. It’s been intense at every level, and I’m so happy that right now it’s getting intense in the right way.” Wheeler said. “It’s really amazing. We wanted to focus on positive imagery. Lyft has been a great partner in all of this. They want to say yes to everything and do what they can to support us and make this thing happen.

“It’s creating a sense of power, ownership and positivity. Not just for us but also students walking by.”

Written by: Sarah Kominek (Department of Communication, Journalism major)