If you’ve been on Western’s Bellingham campus before, chances are you’ve noticed some bricks on the ground painted with various styles of artwork. These painted bricks are a part of a long tradition on campus among student artists where students take bricks from the ground temporarily to paint and return them.
This tradition is nameless and primarily anonymous. Students have been painting bricks for years at Western, but no one is sure where the tradition actually originated.
Since the ’90s, this tradition has continued on campus; student artists take bricks where they can find them and use them to showcase their talents. Some artwork is even immortalized on a student-run Instagram page to showcase different bricks while they’re in the ground.
Zoe Wiley, a first-year environmental science major at Western who participates in this tradition, appreciates the community it builds with artists on campus.
“It builds this sub-community, especially with the Instagram page,” Wiley said. “Whenever people claim their art it's cool to see who it is, see what they’re about, and if you wanted to, you could network a bunch of artists. Even if you don’t make it a direct community, it’s just cool that there are people out there who want to contribute to making campus more interesting.”
Bricks that are painted only live on campus walkways for a short time; once a painted brick catches the attention of Western’s maintenance team, it’s removed and replaced with a new brick by an experienced brick mason who can secure it properly into the walkway.
After the painted brick is removed and replaced, it’s discarded by Western’s maintenance team, according to Paul Cocke, Western’s communications director.
While this tradition allows Western students to express their artistic ability, Cocke also states that it serves as a nuisance to Western’s maintenance, faculty and students with mobility issues.
“We’ve had lots of issues with people tripping on them,” Cocke said. “We have blind people on campus trip over them. We’ve had complaints from skateboarders and bicyclists that have hit them and almost knocked them over. It’s a safety hazard.”
Some brick-painting students purposely find ways around creating new tripping hazards. Adeline Thomas, a first-year studio arts major at Western whose brick art was featured on the previously mentioned Instagram page, doesn’t leave empty spaces when she paints bricks.
“I avoid taking bricks out of the pavement and usually find loose bricks scattered in the bushes,” Thomas said. “Then I can replace a brick in the walkway without leaving a hazard and I’m left with another clean brick to paint.”
As this tradition is inconvenient to disabled students and the maintenance workers who have to replace the bricks, Cocke hopes that students can express their art in a safer way.
“We have some tremendously talented students on our campus,” Cocke said. “Giving them artistic outlets, I think there’s all kinds of opportunities. They just need to ask. A lot of times it’s easier to go through the system and talk to say the art department, or talk to whoever. Just to make sure people can be safe.”