Creativity Blooms on HOFT Institute wall, first time since 1982

Hanaa Irfan

Brightly-colored buds in full bloom now cover the once barren wall of the HOFT Institute since Julia Meah and a team of creative high school students spent 30 hours painting the West Campus mural.

“I … wanted to start a movement to show people that you can incorporate beauty into urban design,” geography sophomore Meah said. “I just knew with COVID-19, a lot of students have been struggling with their mental health and I wanted to make people feel better.”

Meah has been planning her urban beautification project since November. In collaboration with Austin’s Creative Action’s Color Squad, the mural is meant to represent sustainability and bring vibrance to West Campus.

“Color Squad is an organization of high school kids that make designs and help with the installation process,” Meah said. “I love having them work with me and seeing their passion for it.”

As the curator and community organizer for the project, Meah was in charge of setting up meetings and logistics, while the students from high schools across Austin designed and painted the mural for the past two weeks. The team hopes to complete the art installation this weekend.

“It is a sustainability inspired mural, so it has a lot of plants, flowers and people of all different backgrounds and ethnicities,” Meah said.

Located on the corner of 24th Street and Pearl Street, the HOFT Institute has provided tutoring and English as a second language assistance to UT students since 1982.

“I drive by the HOFT Institute every day, and for as long as I can remember, that wall was really just an eye sore,” radio-television-film sophomore Samantha Ward said. “Then one day I see this group of students painting flowers on the wall, and it instantly made my day.”

In Meah’s “the healthy, liveable city” geography class, she had to develop a project on one way to improve Austin. While execution of the project was not part of the rubric, Meah said she wanted to see flowers bloom on the wall of the HOFT Institute.

“I did a lot of research on how street art could improve the economic and social capital of the city,” Meah said. “There’s been a lot of urban development in West Campus without a lot of consideration for green space.”

Molly McCluskey, an international relations and global studies freshman from Houston who recently moved to Austin, said the mural has already made West Campus feel more like home.

“Moving to campus was really intimidating at first, but the new mural makes West Campus feel more welcoming,” McCluskey said. “It reminds me of the ‘BE SOMEONE’ mural in Houston which is … comforting.”

With the help of a silicone graffiti coating on top of the mural, Meah hopes the mural will stay intact for years and continue improving the atmosphere in West Campus.

“Living should be beautiful,” Meah said. “This project is a way to make people feel so much happier about their surroundings and embodies that principle.”