Julianna Lai

Over the course of the year, students and administrators have worn in the dorm rooms and common spaces of Benjamin Franklin College, leaving their mark on the new facility. But some features of the college, like the blank white walls in the basement, still serve as reminders of the college’s newness. Now, a student art committee led by Julie Averbach ’21 and Sara Lewis ’21, a member of the News’ web development team, has begun transforming the white walls in the Franklin basement hallways into an array of colorful murals.

Work on the murals began this past weekend, but the committee has already made considerable progress. On one wall, a quotation from Benjamin Franklin floats above the head of a sleeping bulldog — “Tell me and I’ll forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I will learn.” On another section of the wall, a portrait, painted by Lewis, of Rosalind Franklin framed with DNA strands pays tribute to the English chemist. Next to Franklin’s portrait lies a pop art–style mural that incorporates the University motto and symbols from Benjamin Franklin’s career, including a lightning bolt and a kite.

Lewis said she expects the rest of the pieces to be completed by the end of next weekend.

“We’re next to Pauli Murray and they have a woman as their namesake, so we wanted to ensure that the diversity of our college is reflected in our aesthetic environment,” Averbach said. “A lot of people chose to paint women and people of color. We have an LGBTQ mural for a bit more representation of modern Yale, as well.”

On Jan. 17, members of the college celebrated their namesake’s birthday with the unveiling of a new statue of Benjamin Franklin in the courtyard. According to Lewis, following the celebration, Head of College Charles Bailyn ’81 suggested that students create other art installations in the college.

Averbach and Lewis, both passionate about art, suggested that the area around the fitness center, a hallway connecting the dining hall with seminar and dorm rooms that draws considerable foot traffic, could be transformed into a gallery space. The murals currently being painted will be permanent, but the Franklin Fine Arts Committee plans to leave space for future classes to make their mark on the basement walls. A large area will remain unpainted to be used as an art gallery with cycling student exhibits.

Consulting on materials and layout ideas with the administrators in Silliman College who led a similar mural-painting initiative five years ago, the Franklin Fine Arts Committee took funds provided by Bailyn and enlisted the help of students in the college. The 14 available wall plots were claimed quickly; the committee received so many student requests that it had to move some students to a waiting list.

“This was entirely a student-driven effort, from the purchasing of the materials to the drawing and painting,” Averbach said. “It’s very much the students infusing the space with our own passions and interests.”

Aside from those that were responsible for designing the murals, a number of students who spoke with News filtered in and out of the hallway to assist in painting. Jessica McCurdy ’21 stopped by to spend some time with her fellow Franklinites, saying that initiatives throughout the year, like the mural-painting party, have been key in establishing community in the new college.

“Not being on Old Campus as a first year and being far away has been interesting, but it’s made us more of a tight community here,” McCurdy said. “It’s been so nice because Head Bailyn has been super open to all of our suggestions. We’re starting to make traditions, and the idea that these murals are going to be here for a while is pretty cool.”

Every Friday night, students in Benjamin Franklin College can gather in the Head of College house for crafts and board games. Now, in the basement, students can contribute to the “Community Mural” begun by the Franklin Fine Arts Committee, a piece mimicking stained-glass and laden with symbols associated with the college’s namesake, from the fleur de lis to “$100.” According to McCurdy, dissatisfaction among students with how the college’s naming has led to events like “Aretha Franklin night” to diversify the college’s image and expand its affiliation with historical trailblazers.

Pauli Murray College has planned similar arts initiatives to customize the college interiors. Pauli Murray College Council representative Calvin Chen ’20 says the council will be discussing a project to create a wall of handprints from every member the college and also plans to create its own murals on the walls.

Further down College Street, students in Silliman College received an invitation from Head of College Laurie Santos to a paint party to continue to fill the walls in Silliman’s basement hallways. According to Santos’ email, once all the plots are full, students will vote yearly on which murals stay and which need to be painted over.

Benjamin Franklin and Pauli Murray colleges opened in August 2017.

Julianna Lai | julianna.lai@yale.edu