Mural Chronicles UM’s History

October 31, 2011 —

A black and white photo of Winston Churchill at the University of Miami’s 1946 commencement ceremony in Burdine Stadium. A 1950s-era photograph of fraternity members competing in a sack race. Vintage photos of students attending a classroom lecture, studying in an on-campus apartment, and enjoying a pep rally. Photos of Hurricane national championship athletic teams. An image of President Edward “Tad” Foote walking the Coral Gables campus in 1992 to inspect the damage caused by Hurricane Andrew. And a photo of President Donna E. Shalala at her swearing-in ceremony.

The University of Miami story, captured in photographs and “muralized” on a section of vinyl longer than an NBA basketball court, now graces one of the walls in the heart of the institution’s Coral Gables campus.
“The U: Dynamic History, Vibrant Traditions” is a 165-image, 108-foot-long mural of UM’s 85-year history. Divided into five sections, it is a collage of different eras, reflecting student life during each of the five UM presidential administrations—from Bowman Foster Ashe to Donna E. Shalala.
“Everything from the first UM home game at the Orange Bowl to the first Ibis,” says Pat Whitely, vice president for student affairs and a key figure in spearheading the project. “Iconic buildings, homecoming celebrations, prominent visitors—it’s all there. I’m thrilled about it. We all worked countless hours to make sure the mural reflects the student experience and the leadership of the five presidents.”

Nearly 10 feet high at its tallest point, the mural adorns the west wall of the Whitten University Center, starting from the entrance next to the WVUM radio station and running south toward the temporary location of the Rathskeller.
“It’s special because it focuses on what students have accomplished,” says senior Ashley Taggart, vice president of UM Student Government and a member of the University Center Renovations Committee, who has worked on the project since last spring. “While there are pictures of our athletic teams, there are also pictures of students skiing on Lake Osceola, students taking part in intramural sporting activities, and other things that happened at UM we never knew about. But now, we’ll be able to see it on this mural. It makes us realize how much of a history UM has.”
UM Student Government President Brandon Mitchell, along with other student leaders, came up with the idea of a mural after running on a campaign platform that included a “Spirit the U” initiative, which is aimed at raising the enthusiasm and spirit level on campus.
“We came up with the idea as a way to promote the tremendous tradition we have at the University of Miami,” says Mitchell. “Everyone from students and staff to visitors and prospective students will be able to go back in time and see what it’s always been like to be a Miami Hurricane.”
Taggart calls the project “a successful collaboration,” noting the efforts of the Division of Student Affairs, Real Estate and Facilities, Athletics, University Communications, and the Richter Library in helping with the mural.
Portraits of UM’s five presidents, accompanied by a short bio on each, are included on the mural, which was designed by ARQUITECTONICA, the Miami-based architecture, interior design, and planning firm that also designed UM’s new Student Activities Center and the interior renovations of the University Center—projects that are currently under way.

Installing the mural may have been the easiest part of the project. Locating and sifting through thousands of images and then selecting the ones for the final cut took weeks. To locate the photographs, Whitely and representatives from UM’s Campus Planning and Development Department mined the archives of the Richter Library and other sources, ultimately selecting 165 images that were scanned and digitized. Then, an outside firm transferred the photographs onto the durable vinyl fabric that will eventually go up inside the University Center.
“To manage that many photographs, it’s difficult to just place them anywhere,” explains Christine Zavesky, the ARQUITECTONICA designer who helped calculate the mural’s dimensions. “To break up the geometry of the layout, we created a system to accommodate the many different photographic proportions of horizontal and vertical images.”


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