Take a walk around Western’s campus and you will discover a growing collection of painted bricks scattered within the walkways.
The painted bricks began popping up in early 2019, and have been gaining popularity since.
“I think it’s great, it gives students something lasting to leave behind that we can all appreciate,” said Allen Frost, art studio advisor and program manager. “It’s just fun to see them.”
The variety of paintings range from sceneries, cartoons, and memes according to the Western Brick Art Instagram page, wwu_brickart, where the collection of bricks and artists is being celebrated. Other bricks have been carved into before being painted over.
The trend in painting bricks has created its own culture around Western’s campus.
“I am not sure what class or instructor sponsors the painted bricks,” John Furman, director of Facilities Management said. “But the removal of existing bricks and replacement with painted bricks has not been approved by Facilities Management.”
Furman said that although he appreciates the art on the replacement bricks, any action that disturbs the original brick structure is problematic and can damage the surrounding bricks.
“In many places, it appears as if an original brick has been pried out of the structure, sometimes damaging surrounding bricks and all the time damaging the supporting infrastructure,” Furman said.
Other community members generally view the trend as entertaining.
“From my standpoint, it looks like fun,” Hafthor Yngvason, museum director for the Western Gallery, said. “I don’t know what the university’s opinion is of them.”
Yngvason said he finds humor in the choice of location for the art. Typically, students walk with their heads down, looking at their phones, so placing the art on the ground instead of on buildings draws more attention to it, said Yngvason.
Yngvason said this type of art is seen in other areas where professional artists create public art. For instance, a subway station in Boston features poems on bricks, Yngvason said.
Although the bricks are a creative addition to campus, students have voiced concerns about how the disruption to walkways impacts accessibility.
A Reddit post by u/Merrinberry, who described themselves as using a wheelchair, said missing bricks are a concern for other wheelchair users. The information was posted to Reddit on Nov. 19 and has been shared on the Western Brick Art Instagram page as well.
“If my front wheel gets stuck in one of the holes (and there are many lately), I am literally trapped there unless someone helps me,” the post said.
The Reddit user, who was unable to be reached for comment, suggested students should take bricks from the sides of walkways and swap them with central bricks once they’re painted.
Another student expressed concern after seeing the post on Instagram.
“I think it’s cool, but when you take out bricks, it can create a hazard for skateboarders and those in wheelchairs,” fourth-year student Connor Schattenkerk said.
Jake Arinn, a fifth-year student, experienced these hazards first-hand when he hit a hole in the bricks while riding his bike on campus at night.
“It really freaked me out,” Arinn said.
Schattenkerk seconded the proposal to avoid taking bricks from the middle of a walkway and to be cautious of the issue it creates for people on all types of wheels.