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"Peace Signs" Mural at Carleton College Promotes Tolerance

April 28, 2000

As Carleton College's celebration of Pride Month 2000 draws to a close, a new, brightly-colored mural hangs in a campus building as a permanent reminder of the College's ongoing support of acceptance for all.

Designed by artist and activist Amy Bartell, the "Peace Signs" mural commemorates various movements of resistance and peace. It features 15 prominent, recognizable symbols, including the dove, ribbons for AIDS and breast cancer awareness, a fist for Black Power and civil rights, the Native American Earth turtle, and the Star of David. The mural is installed on the second floor of Sayles-Hill Student Center and is a year-round celebration of diversity and inclusion.

"The mural project fits into Pride Month activities because several of the mural's symbols, like the triangle and the rainbow, have direct relevance to the LGBT movement," said Simine Vazire, a senior from Palo Alto, Calif., who co-chairs Carleton's Movement Against Homophobia group. "[The symbols] represent the struggles and the victories of the movement, and the freedom and peace that all people, including LGBT people, deserve."

During the month of April, Bartell lived on campus as an artist-in-residence at Carleton. Her lengthy stay gave her time to paint the mural, interact with Carleton students, speak at several Pride Month activities and give a presentation in the Career Center titled "Careers in Art and Making a Living as an Artist."

"Being immersed in campus culture is the maximum benefit of the mural project," Bartell said. "It allows me to learn about the inner workings and politics of the community, and it gives students the opportunity to observe the actual painting of the mural. It instills in them a sense of pride and ownership over the project."

According to Bartell, between five and 20 students stopped by each day to watch the progress of "Peace Signs." She created the mural in a public area several feet away from where it is permanently installed.

"Murals and public art in general have a unique way of reaching people," she said. "By definition, public art exists in public spaces and encourages the people who use the space to think." Carleton is one of only three schools that can claim an original "Peace Signs" mural. Bartell constructed her first "Peace Signs" out of handmade paper and designed the motif as an "image that would inspire people to get involved."

"Because there is no such thing as an inclusive piece of art, there are issues and symbols that are not represented in the mural," Bartell said. "Rather, the peace sign mural is meant to act as a visual launching pad from which people can consider how image relates to history and how symbol relates to politic. Although not all of the featured symbols are contemporary ones, they still need a place in history."

Bartell's lengthy visit to Carleton was sponsored by Carleton's Human Sexuality Endowment Fund, the Wellness Center, and the Dean of Students Office. Kaaren Williamsen, Carleton's advisor to LGBT students, invited Bartell to campus after meeting her at a conference and realizing that the images of "Peace Signs"-tolerance, peace, and unity-were central to the LGBT movement. The mural has created "a visible, living legacy of Pride Month 2000," she said.

Vazire agrees. "The mural proves that Carleton is committed to more than tolerance. We want to make an effort toward change," she said. "Amy's presence and, on a more permanent basis, the mural's presence, shows visitors, prospective students, and other passers-by that they are welcome, and it encourages them to think about what it means to be a community."