TOP
Colorful mural of bird

#SBUtiful

A communal effort is transforming our campus into a work of art

 

By Ellen Cooke

Mitch Trinka

Mitch Trinka, founder and chair of the CBC, in front of the Origami Club’s Progress Pride flag that will now be permanently on display in the Counseling and Psychological Services space.

With a vision, a dream, a bucket of supplies and strong support from across the university, MFA student and SBU alum Xiaohui (Katie) Wang (BFA ’20) turned a message of hope and community into a dazzling mural on the wall adjoining the LGBTQ* Center and West Side Dining. Wang’s colorful tree/bird composite — called “Spread Your Wings” — speaks to the university’s values of inclusion and belonging. It incorporates thoughts and words solicited from local community members. Significantly, it also represents the first completed project in a Campus Beautification Committee (CBC) initiative that’s catching on like wildfire across campus.  

With the goal of incorporating more beauty into our surroundings, Mitchell Trinka, digital media manager for Advancement, is spending his personal time helping students like Wang realize their ambitions through a broad-based initiative designed to reflect joy; create spaces for artistic expression; and instill a sense of belonging, pride and purpose. A primary goal is to create a physical environment that matches the campus’s energy and vitality. Best yet, it’s a community effort among — and for — students, faculty, staff, alumni, donors and visitors that will serve as a lasting legacy for all.

Trinka is quick to point out it’s a diverse group of people from across the entire campus uniting in the most collaborative way to make it all happen. He leads the 15-member, cross-disciplinary beautification committee he formed about a year ago, bringing to life a vision he’s had since he started working at SBU in 2018.

“I looked around and wanted to facilitate something that was really on people’s minds already: beautifying the space all around us, so the campus itself reflects the special community we have here at Stony Brook University. This past year, all the pieces started coming together,” he said.

Katie Wang

Artist Katie Wang spent several weeks bringing her vision, “Spread Your Wings,” to life.

Those pieces include assembling students, faculty and staff members — who work in areas ranging from Marketing and Communications to Community Relations to Human Resources and Student Affairs — to create the CBC. There’s also the first, recently unveiled LGBTQ* mural from Wang and a palette of other projects, too, including creating a warmer, more welcoming presence at the CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services) center in Student Health Services; displaying URECA (Undergraduate Research and Creative Activities) award-winning student artwork in the Frank Melville Jr. Memorial Library; and creating captivating environmental images at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences (SoMAS). There are also community origami programs and projects in the mix through collaboration with the university’s Origami Club.

“We have more ideas than we know what to do with from all different sections of campus and the community,” Trinka said. “But that’s a great ‘problem’ to have and we’re considering everything that comes our way.”  

The spread of creativity is all occurring through word of mouth because people sense the passion behind each project and the initiative as a whole, he said. “From our committee to art students and professors, people across campus have been buying in because they see this is much more than a couple of murals being painted on the walls. It’s really a movement toward family and community here at Stony Brook.”

It Takes a Community
Lauren Candela, senior communications manager, Finance and Administration, and one of CBC’s dedicated members, said, “Mitch has forged relationships with the university’s art community and established a pipeline of artists eager and excited to bring life, vibrancy and energy to the corners of campus that could benefit from their artwork. Working in tandem with the CBC, they’re creating a living legacy and laying a strong foundation for future artists.”

Candela added that being in the CBC allows her to meet with different people across campus. “We’re leveraging our construction painters for their expertise, and borrowing ladders, supplies and ideas from our Facilities teammates. We’re working with student artists and the faculty that supports them. Overall, there are so many different groups of individuals contributing to each project. And building that village — and walking the road to completed art installations — that’s the fun stuff!”

Cathrine Duffy, director of Healthier U, said, “The work of the Campus Beautification Committee communicates to employees that creating an inclusive sense of place on campus is a priority. Promoting belonging for our employees is as important as it is for our students. It’s an honor to be able to focus on environmental wellness as a part of this multidisciplinary team.”

For his part, Trinka said, “I’m constantly amazed — and beyond grateful — that people across campus are willing to give their time and energy and are as committed to this dream as me. They’re stepping up and getting involved to help the community, which is one of SBU’s core values.”

ART AT A GLANCE

The Zebra Path
The tradition of student art installations began in 1981, with the creation of the Zebra Path.
The tradition of student art installations began in 1981, with the creation of the Zebra Path. Here are a few works that you can see on the SB Unique tour, created by Kristen J. Nyitray, director, Special Collections and University Archives, which features all the art on campus.

Heartbeats Mural
heart beat mural
Following his experience with the Piano Steps, Mallangada decided to take on a bigger art project, this time connecting the “Heartbeats of Stony Brook” in a stunning mural painted inside the Nicolls Road underpass tunnel, completed in September 2017.

 

Iconic Zebra Path Artist
Kim Hardiman
This iconic Zebra Path came to life when student Kim Hardiman ‘82 won a grant to beautify the campus as part of an advanced seminar in public art. The 232’ x 12’ walkway, located behind the Career Center, is regularly refurbished with new coats of paint. It is now a permanent part of the Seawolves community.

Tabler Quad
Nagasawa, Naveen Mallangada
Nagasawa, Naveen Mallangada ’17 worked alongside several members of the campus community to paint the steps leading to Tabler Quad to look like the keys of a grand piano, completing the project in April 2015. “I wanted it to be a grand entrance that represents how Stony Brook University supports both the academic and artistic potential of its students,” he said.

Club Hub
club hub
In 2023, the Office of Student Life invited students to submit their ideas to redecorate the Club Hub, one of the newest features of the Stony Brook Union. Rico Maxino, a senior majoring in media/arts/culture, won the contest. His mural now welcomes students to the vibrant space.

Peace Mural
In November 2022, students, faculty and staff from across campus joined together to helppaint the “Peace, Love, SBU” mural outside of the Life Sciences Building. The mural was featured in President McInnis’ annual end of year message.
In November 2022, students, faculty and staff from across campus joined together  to help paint the “Peace, Love, SBU” mural outside of the Life Sciences Building. The mural was featured in President McInnis’ annual end of year message.

All About the Students
A key CBC mission is to provide students with the opportunities and resources to paint their brightest future. Sponsored by art professors, participating students receive credit for their commissioned artwork and are provided with ongoing guidance, support and supplies.

Isaiah Daniel

Isaiah Daniel with the community-painted rocks that will be installed outside the Student Activities Center.

“At the end of the day this is all about the students. And it really comes down to how we can provide a springboard to their future,” said Trinka.

Among them is Norah Allam ‘26, who has a double major in biomedical engineering and applied mathematics and statistics. She heard about Trinka and the CBC’s work through a professor, so she decided to pursue her longtime childhood passion by signing up to create artwork at SoMAS. She also declared a minor in studio art.

“I never dreamed I’d have the opportunity to leave an impactful and lasting piece of art here at Stony Brook,” she said. “It’s opened up all kinds of possibilities for me.”

Armed with a vision, a sketch and several black Sharpies, Allam will be drawing one of her signature, realistic-looking, black-and-white, marine biology–themed pieces — an octopus that will meander across the walls of one of SoMAS’ busier hallways.

Norah Allam

Student Norah Allam with a mock-up of the mural she has started painting in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

“It’s my first time doing something on such a large scale,” Allam said, “but the committee has given me this incredible freedom and flexibility to create something the way I want. I totally trust them. And you’re always in a good mood when you’re meeting with Mitch because he’s always so excited when he’s talking about art, and he wants other people to get involved and share in that excitement.”

Milo Mohamed ‘24 is majoring in studio art and media art culture, with a minor in digital arts communication and art history. Thanks to the CBC, he’s leading efforts he’s dreamed about since coming here — projects that are paving the way for his chosen career path.

One of these is leaving a legacy of art in one of the campus buildings.

“This is a project,” he said, “that will provide an open slate for students to express their creativity and showcase their artwork in colorful fashions, in a space that’s all about, and for, them.”

Mohamed is also orchestrating a project that invites local community members to join in and create art at special events, such as at CommUniversity Day in October. The plan he’s collaborating on involves students, professors and community members working with him to develop what will be a mosaic work of art in the form of an evolving series of vinyl plaques. And there may be additional opportunities to create collaborative artwork across campus.

Milo

Milo Mohamed is hoping to bring evolving art to campus buildings.

Mohamed found out about the CBC through one of his art professors, Lorena Salcedo-Watson. “These projects are tapping into my love and appreciation for art and the arts,” said Mohamed, “and giving me experience in leadership and project management. One of my dream visions is to be a facilitator in providing artists with the resources and space to express themselves and satisfy their urge and need to create beauty.”

Psychology and business marketing major Isaiah Daniel ’24 is vice president of student life for Stony Brook’s Undergraduate Student Government (USG). Daniel and Evelyn Savchenko ’24, both active student CBC members, were embarking on campus beautification endeavors through USG when they heard about the committee’s efforts. They decided to join forces.

 “The Campus Beautification Committee and all the work happening there is so clearly all about, and for, the students,” Daniel said. “Nobody is looking for anything in return. It’s just a gift, which is incredible.”

He added, “I feel listened to, heard and valued at the CBC meetings. The passion and drive I see in myself I see tenfold in Mitch and the committee. We all love this work at USG and want to do everything we can to support it. And we all plan to have more student representation after we graduate, so this can live on.”

Projects Daniel and the CBC are working on include community rock painting at October’s CommUniversity Day — a project he felt was perfect for bringing community together for artistic expression — and potential plans for a skate park on campus.

Trinka said the undergraduate students he’s met through this initiative make him hopeful for the future. “These are the type of people you want to put out into the world. They are so talented, so wonderfully creative and so diligent. They’re superstars and we want to help them find their story, live their dreams and achieve all they can.”

 

ribbon cutting in front of mural

The Campus Beautification Committee joined President Maurie McInnis (center, with scissors) at the ribbon cutting to celebrate the completion of the CBC’s first mural.

Spreading Its Wings
Leadership support — including from the Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives (DI3) — has helped the CBC initiative take off. Judi Brown Clarke, vice president for equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, sits on the committee, and said: “When Mitch came to me with the idea, it was immediately clear we had the same goals — working toward having every point of entry, every hallway, office or pathway tell our story; exemplify our values of inclusivity and belonging; connect students, employees, alumni, community members and visitors to each other and to the campus; and make this a place where people want to work,
go to school and collaborate.”

“The bedrock of this initiative is respect for diversity and true inclusivity,” explained Trinka, “and the fact that the first mural has an LGBTQ+ theme is not a coincidence.” With support from advisor Salcedo-Watson, Trinka and the committee, artist Katie Wang began working on her approved concept this past spring and began painting in August.

“My mission as an artist is completed. The mural will have its own life and its own journey from now on,” Wang said. “It may be loved, hated, praised or neglected, but none of it has anything to do with me anymore. The only truth I hold is my memory of Summer 2023, when I lovingly touched every square inch of that wall in sun and in rain, the whisper of wind and rustling of leaves, the change of light, the insects’ chorus, and my favorite part: the solitary walk home under the stars when the day is done.”


Like everything associated with the campus beautification initiative, there was also community involvement in the project. For the mural, that included Clarke and the DI3 reaching out to SBU and surrounding local community members to find the most meaningful words to express the prominently featured inclusivity messages.

LGBTQ* Center Coordinator and CBC team member Maxine Moylan said, “To me, this mural is a visual representation of Stony Brook’s commitment to creating and fostering a welcoming, inclusive campus community. It’s no mistake that the mural is located in such a prominent spot on campus. It serves as a bold, eye-catching message to everyone who passes: ‘You are welcome here. You belong here.’”

At the mural’s ribbon-cutting ceremony on September 8, President Maurie McInnis said, “Art plays a crucial role in forming the identity and culture of a place … This mural is a celebration of who we are right now: a diverse, inclusive community full of exciting collaborations, unexpected connections and a deep commitment to one another. I can’t think of anything more beautiful than that.

“The Campus Beautification Committee was born out of this idea, and I am incredibly grateful to Mitchell Trinka and the many other members of this group for pioneering this work. I know this is just the start of the committee’s beautification efforts,” she said.

Leaving a Legacy
From the first mural to the ongoing stream of projects taking shape and form, Trinka said he also has personal reasons for putting his passions to work for all of this to succeed: “None of us knows how much time they have and so what we do each day is really important and meaningful. I’m coming at this 150 percent. But I also see myself as just a link in a chain when it comes to leaving a legacy of creating community on this campus. If I can be a strong link, bring people along with me and leave just a little extra glimmer for when the next link comes in, I’ve had a good life.”

The Campus Beautification Committee is open to all Seawolves. If you are interested in participating, please reach out to Mitchell.Trinka@stonybrook.edu.

The Campus Beautification Committee Members: Mitchell Trinka (chair/founder), Isak Berbic, Daniel Canavin, Lauren Candela, Judith B. Clarke, Ellen Cooke, Isaiah Daniel, Cathrine Duffy, David Ecker, Sonia Garrido, Erika Karp, Karen Leibowitz, Maxine Moylan, Evelyn Savchenko and Chris Tanaka