The Paint in the Stairwell

Early on this semester, a controversial layer of paint went up on the inner walls of the western stairwell of Dupre Hall. 

Macalester students—divided—discussed the validity of the paint. Is it art? Vandalism? Both? Here, The Spark uncovers the true story of the stairwell by chatting with some of the artists themselves. To protect their identities, names have been removed from this interview.

Update: The administration will be paying for the stairwell to be whitewashed over the summer. Their primary reason is that it does not know whether the incoming class will approve of the space. As much as we understand that concern, we’re still disappointed with the decision.

However, these artists have opened up an opportunity. Administration and residence hall staff supports the idea of exploring non-residential collaborative art spaces, so let’s not get discouraged. Let’s start a conversation. Look for updates in the fall about our efforts to work with administration to make campus more open and arts-friendly.

The Spark: Why the stairwell?

Artist 3: Well we all kinda live right by the stairwell and we use it all the time.

Artist 2: We had also seen poems. There was one poem that was pasted to the wall and we thought that that was a really cool idea, so at first it was going to be just poems and then it morphed into painting.

The Spark: Were there meet-ups?

Artist 1: It was kind of more just like if you had time, you came and did it.

A2: Yeah, it was really just like three days, I think.

A1: Yeah, we spent like eight hours in here one day.

A3: I remember walking past and just hearing you singing or whistling in the stairwell and being like, “X is still in there.” You didn’t go to class one day.

A1: Yeah, I just didn’t do anything except paint the stairwell one day.

A3: But the thing that was cool was that because so many people use the stairwell to exit the building, you would catch people and they would be like, “What are you guys doing?”

A1: And then we would tell them.

A3: And then they could start painting with us.

A1: And people did.

The exploding brain.

The Spark: What are the pieces all about?

A3: I think my favorite one is this little doodle that someone did. I don’t know when it was put up; it said ‘urban’ and it looked kinda like a transit line route, but then we continued the lines to cover the whole wall. So it was cool to take something that was already existing, and even though we don’t know the history behind it we could see its intention, so we made it something bigger.

A2: But I think what is cool too is that X and I just started painting actual nonsense on the wall. We didn’t know what we were doing, we were kinda splatter painting it. It turned into this really cool array of colors. Then we tried to recreate it and it didn’t work as well.

A3: I actually really love this one, the brain, and the explosion.

A1: Yeah, I love the exploding brain and—while we were painting it with Y—we were talking about how the brain exploding is like the stairwell’s function changing.

A2: Also, these words [peace and hope], the reason we put them up was because we were like, “Oh, maybe administration will really like this a lot more if we have encouraging words. Maybe they’ll support it if it’s an act of justice.”

A1: And we also wanted to set a precedent that this was a place for love.

DSC_0021 (1)
Transit route.

The Spark: What has been your general experience with Macalester art spaces? Is this a necessary thing?

A1: I mean the Grate is nice, but I don’t really know of anyone who goes and adds to the Grate anymore because it’s kind of finished. I think Macalester is in need of blank space to create and this is that.

A3: That was another cool thing about this. People didn’t feel like they had to be really good in order to add stuff, and I feel like the other places that are maybe more public, people didn’t feel that way.

A1: My friend Joe from home walked in here and looked around very unimpressed and looked at me and said, “Yeah, the level of artistic ability in here is about as good as like a kindergartener’s.”

The Spark: What did you say in response to that?

A1: Um, fuck you, Joe.

A3: Well, I think that in the space, that’s kind of the point. There’s joy in that it’s not really nice.

A1: It doesn’t have to be great. You don’t have to be some great artist to do something. You should just do something because it is a space that everyone can do something.

A3: And none of these things are really hard to look at. Nothing is like, “This is really unpleasing,” or, “I don’t know what this is.” They were all simple enough in a way that everyone can understand.

A1: I think it’s a reminder that art is for everyone and should be made by everyone, regardless of talent. Like, yeah, there will always be these great artists who are put on a pedestal, but really everyone is capable of painting and enjoying art. The fact that it’s in a dorm is great because people just walk by it everyday and it becomes a part of their lives. A four-second walk down the stairs that would be really gloomy otherwise is a little bit more colorful. It reminds me everyday when I go to class that there is color out there.

The Spark: How do you feel about it being whitewashed?

A2: Pretty sad.

A1: I mean, I’m kinda sad.

A3: I’m really sad.

A1: I don’t want it to go. I can’t imagine anyone in the first-year class would object to this being here when they come.

A3: Yeah, I love walking down here. It’s going to be sad next year, walking down and not seeing it. It’s sad because it’s not something where you have a canvas and take it and put it in storage. This will be gone, destroyed.

Interested in getting involved with claiming arts space? Get in touch with us over the summer at

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