New mural created by Fine Arts team transforms dreary wall into colorful skyscape

Three people paint a mural with sky and clouds on a concrete wall.

Karen Maness, left, works with students to paint a mural on a concrete retaining wall outside a row of office windows in the McCombs School of Business. Photo by Ashton Bennet Murphy.

Staff in the McCombs School of Business recently received a new outlook on life when a drab concrete retaining wall outside their office windows became the home of a new mural project.

When these nine employees looked out their window before, they saw a dark, water-stained concrete wall only eight feet away that blocked most of the natural light and all views of campus and the sky. The McCombs School of Business put out a call to hire a professional mural painting company to transform the space, and Theatre and Dance Professor Susan Mickey encouraged Texas Performing Arts (TPA) Scenic Art Supervisor and Theatre and Dance Lecturer Karen Maness to apply.

“When I visited the site, the existing wall felt heavy, dark, stifling, close and imprisoning for the inhabitants of the offices,” Maness said. “My conceptual goal was to flip that perceived view to create a feeling of distance, openness and the infinite. Each office has its own private view with an atmospheric sky that changes dramatically over the day as the sun, cloud cover and weather patterns shift.”

Maness was commissioned to lead the project and handpicked a team of three students and a TPA staff member at Texas Performing Arts to transform the 147-foot wall. The team included Theatre and Dance senior Mikaela Kelarek, Theatrical Design graduate students Iman Corbani and Tucker Goodman and Ashton Bennett Murphy (B.A., Theatre and Dance, 2018). The students each received scholarships to work on the project.

Maness’ studio practice centers on expansive landscapes and intimate human stories, and her works are created with the intent of transforming spaces, shaping environments and inviting viewers to engage with the work.  By all accounts from the team at McCombs, the new mural does all of that.

“Windows are so important in our work spaces. They bring natural light and a refreshing view of the world,” said Matt Turner, Marketing Researcher at McCombs, whose office window looks out on the mural. “Before this mural project, our view was marred by a dreary, grey, concrete wall—it was so bleak we often didn’t bother opening the blinds.  With the mural in place, we bask in a perpetually gorgeous skyscape.  Our blinds are now open.”