When Richard Amon, vice chancellor for business affairs, considered the blank walls that greet guests in the recently-renovated fourth floor of Reese, he saw a collaborative opportunity to liven up the space, showcase his staff and involve students. Wheels churning, he contacted the Department of Art and Art History with an idea to create a mural to cover the walls.
“One of my goals for our division is to provide more opportunities for students to engage in the work we do helping operate a top-tier University,” said Amon. “While we have (and are working on more) traditional opportunities like internships and jobs, I wanted to think of a way to engage with student artists. I come from a family of artists, and I believe art conveys the heart and soul of an organization.”
The department created an elective special topics course specifically for this project, and focused the task to graphic design students. Professor Cynthia Frank, a full-time lecturer of five years and professional graphic designer with more than 30 years of experience — including multiple mural commissions, some local to Charlotte — led a class of nine juniors and seniors to complete this mural project.
“I was excited to lead this talented group of students through a project that helped them both gain real-world experience and leave their mark on campus,” said Frank. “Dr. Amon wanted to liven up the office and celebrate the staff that make up the Division of Business Affairs. Through his vision, students were able to work on a project from conception to completion and learn how to work together to bring a client’s vision to life.”
This project provided an incredible opportunity for students to apply their classroom knowledge to a real-world commission. Amon requested the mural be a reflection of business affairs staff and the work they do each day. Working in small teams, the students researched the University and the functions of business affairs and pitched three distinct visual solutions to Amon. Ultimately, the proposal featuring artwork by Richard Tran, a senior graphic design student, was chosen. The entire class then got to work on production — refining the content, composition and color, researching materials, creating digital files for the stencil transfer and dimensional logo signage, and painting the mural.
The mural, which is titled “Behind the C,” is best described by Tran as, “a collaborative effort between Charlotte and student life,” or, more concisely, “the scaffolding of student life.”
“The design is based on my own doodle style, that I call ‘Ditto,’ which uses goofy, simple characters to represent something without being super-realistic about it,” said Tran.
This is exemplified in the mural as each element within the painting is identifiable but slightly characterized — like the University’s unofficial mascot, the goose, riding the bus.
Scanning the mural, you might see Norm, the light rail, key campus landmarks, scooters, buses and robots, but a closer look will reveal groundskeepers, bus drivers, construction workers, chefs, business people, police officers, buildings such as Prospector, Reese and The Dubois Center, and so much more. It really is a carefully crafted design that encompasses the entire campus staff workforce.
"My motto is ‘arete’ — excellence in all we do — and the students absolutely captured the excellent work our Business Affairs employees do to make Charlotte a world-class institution,” said Amon. “From the bus driver, to the landscaper, to the chef and the financial officer, our team is captured in this doodle. We even have the food delivery robots! The students themselves embody ‘arete’ in creating this work of art that will be enjoyed for years to come."
What some students had to say about the mural and the creative process
“I think [the mural] really captures how UNC Charlotte’s culture is as a community and the impact we have on the outside community. Everybody is very involved and there is always a lot going on. Campus is very busy with people interacting, laughing and having a good time. I also think the style of this mural shows that no matter where you are, you can still have fun and make memories like you could when you were a kid — always learning and growing.” — Christa Wickman, senior, graphic design
“I enjoyed considering the workers’ perspectives on what they do on campus and how that contributes to the whole campus. I also enjoyed seeing how the individual pieces of each element fit together — kind of like putting together a cohesive puzzle.” — Tyriek Johnson, senior, graphic design
“I have learned the value of teamwork throughout this whole graphic design program — how individual goals lead to one group goal. It has all been very democratic and supportive, even with differing ideas and perspectives.” — Brian Pinder, senior, graphic design
“It has been nice to do a big group project and see it through to completion. Everyone’s opinion mattered and was considered and respected. We all put in effort. We got to make decisions, but we still had guidance from Professor Frank. It was nice to get design experience while still having guidance.” — Caroline McNamara, senior, graphic design and photography