By Joshua Herring
On Thursday, Aug. 20 in Schaeffer Auditorium, a crowd of supporting faculty, advisers, colleagues, friends, family and even KU’s new president, Dr. Kenneth Hawkinson, filled room 114 with much anticipation for the unveiling of “Celebrating 150 Years of Music Through Public Art,” a large-scale mural imagined, constructed and painted by KU senior honors student Benjamin Hoffman.
The ceremony served three equally significant purposes: kicking off KU’s line-up for the Sesquicentennial Celebration, honoring the KU music and art departments, and acknowledging Hoffman’s completion of his honors capstone project. From initial drawings to installation, the mural took the honors student over three years to develop.
Located on the wall outside of the Richard G. Wells rehearsal studio, spectators immediately noticed the theatre-like curtains covering the 16-by-6 foot mural as they walked into the adjacent studio for special announcements. Hoffman, excited and proud, greeted nearly everyone involved in his project as they entered.
“I got a hallway credit,” someone cheered as they shook the young artist’s hand. Hoffman chose to create a dedicatory plaque that gives credit to everyone who donated to his project, whom he also accredited in his speech.
Hawkinson first took the podium to congratulate Hoffman on his “incredible achievement.” He said, “Ben, I commend you and everyone who worked with you to make this project a possibility. It is a real tribute to the music program, and will be a continuous reminder of the high quality education and experience KU offers through its College of Visual and Performing Arts.”
Following the president was Dean William Mowder of the College of Visual and Performing Arts. After expressing much honor for his department being a part of the Sesquicentennial celebration, he said, “It’s hard to appreciate the time, thought and dedication that Ben put into this project. I have flashbacks to when Ben would come into my office with his loose-leaf notebook filled with materials about his plans and how well organized he was.” He concluded by saying, “This is truly a special day for Ben and everyone who has helped him.”
The studio resounded with applause as Hoffman exchanged places with Mowder, one of his most generous donors, for the last speech of the ceremony.
He began by thanking all of the different individuals who not only assisted with and influenced his project, but whom he said, “inspire to uphold the tradition of this university.” With their guidance, Hoffman said he was able to combine both his passion for music and art into a single work.
“It is amazing to think that I have been considering this project since my sophomore year, and to finally see the idea become a reality,” he said. “This project certainly became more than I could have anticipated. As both a music and art student, I have found myself crossing between the two more often than none, and this mural is a representation of that.”
Admiration filled with the room with clapping, cheers, handshakes and hugs. The crowd then gathered in front of the massive, curtain-covered mural. Appropriately, Hoffman and his father—whom he deems as his biggest supporter—simultaneously unveiled the mural.
The artwork is largely inspired by one of Hoffman’s favorite muralists, Thomas Hart Benton. “The colors are really dynamic like his. I think it will bring the boring space to life,” he said. It showcases students singing, the various KU ensembles and the marching band all in front of “a collage of university places, buildings and KU motifs.”
Any curious individuals are now able to view Hoffman’s finished mural. It hangs in a carefully constructed, protective casing down the bricked corridor next to Schaeffer Auditorium.
The young artist is currently finishing his Bachelor’s degree in art education and fine arts with a concentration in painting and minors in both art history and music. He plans to graduate this December.
For more information about Hoffman’s three-year development of the mural, visit the “Celebrating 150 Years of Music Through Public Art” Facebook page.