It’s night and the campus is empty. No one is around to see someone pull a brick out of the cobblestone pathways of Western Washington University.
The brick will be returned in a few hours as if nothing had happened. The only proof it was ever gone? A mini mural painted on the brick's surface.
This was a hobby of Rebeca Andrade, a Western alumna, while the university was closed due to COVID-19 pandemic.
“I needed something to do. I like painting. I usually don't like painting on canvases,” Andrade said. “I like doing it on random things. I'll do rocks or pieces of wood I find on the street.”
Andrade painted 30 bricks before graduating from Western in 2021.
“My favorite one I've done is the three bricks, and I painted SpongeBob's house, Squidward's house, Patrick's house, all next to each other,” Andrade said.
Andrade isn’t the only one painting the bricks at Western; it’s become a tradition that students take part in anonymously.
Despite the anonymity, a community has been made around the brick art. A student-run Instagram page created a forum for brick art makers and enjoyers, with over 2,000 followers and 210 posts that date back to 2019.
Painted bricks don’t remain on campus for long. They are either faded by footsteps or replaced with a new brick.
At the time of publication, Western’s communication department said they have no comment on the brick art.
Bricks have been used for artistic decoration since the second millennium B.C., said Jimena Berzal de Dios, an art history professor at Western.
“From those glimmering ancient glazed brick examples to the 20th century Arte Povera movement, which used everyday materials, brick has proven to have extraordinary artistic range,” Berzal de Dios said.
Historically, art shows up in places people regularly go, Berzal de Dios said. Brick art being under people's feet means students and faculty encounter it daily.
“Art placed in or made for unconventional locations asks the viewer to be more active and more aware of the relationship between their body, their location and their expectations,” Berzal de Dios said.
Although brick art adds a creative element to campus, it also creates accessibility issues.
Discussions on ethical ways to paint bricks have been started through social media posts. These include taking bricks from the side of the pathways and replacing bricks quickly to not disrupt the main walkways.
“It could certainly pose a barrier for somebody who uses a wheelchair or somebody with maybe even a temporary injury that would impact mobility,” said Josef Mogharreban, the director of the Disability Access Center at Western.
The Western campus map shows accessible routes that may be safer for someone with mobility issues to take, although it does not disclose areas where bricks are missing or unstable, Mogharreban said.
Students continue to participate in brick art, either by contributing their own art or sharing bricks they’ve found.
“I always thought it was fun when I saw a brick painted on campus. It was kind of like a little scavenger hunt,” Andrade said. “I hope other people are able to see mine and feel the same way.”
Jenna Millikan (she/her) is a city news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a third-year student majoring in journalism with a minor in political science. When not reporting, she enjoys cheesy movies, reading and drinking too much coffee.
You can reach her @email@example.com