English Writing major constructs Independent Art Project to promote inclusivity

“The Bench of Positivity”, a independent project by sophomore Kayla Riemensperger. “The Bench of Positivity” was displayed in Bowman Park on April 13th from 12pm-4pm. PHOTO COURTESY OF KAYLA RIEMENSPERGER.

When Sophomore Kayla Riemensperger was not spending hours in the pool during swim season or working on short stories in the classroom, she was working in Richard E. Peeler Art Center to construct a Bench of Positivity.

“The basic concept of the bench is that if you are feeling alone and you don’t have any friends or feel excluded you are supposed to sit on it and someone will sit with you and learn something about you that they wouldn’t know by just passing them on the street,” Riemensperger said.

The purpose of the bench is that if an individual is seen sitting by themselves, one is highly encouraged to go sit with them and talk. The goal of the bench is to serve as a judge-free zone where people can connect on a whole new level.

Riemensperger said she was inspired to do something in response to learning about the biased incidents that took place in Humbert Hall last semester.  “I wanted to figure out what I could do to make it [DePauw] a better place,” Riemensperger said.

She was inspired to create the Bench of Positivity after learning that her friend’s younger brother had a similar bench at his school. The Bench of Positivity is a place where students who are struggling to connect with others, and find it difficult to ask for help, can talk with someone willing to offer an ear to listen with, a shoulder to cry on or just a simple hello.

Riemensperger emailed President Mark McCoy asking to help her facilitate an independent art project in September 2016. Enthusiastic about the project, President McCoy directed Riemensperger to Art and Art History Department Professor Lori Miles and Matt Cummings, assistant director of spirituality, service and social justice.

“I just love the idea, because it is a person to just take the initiative to make the world a better place. I love that self starting initiative and I love to see the faculty student interaction to make it happen,” President McCoy said.

Hartman House and the Art History DePartment helped fund Riemensperger’s project.

“I helped guide her through process of proposing public art for campus and helped her write and propose the project for funding,” Miles said.

The independent art project took the majority of an academic year to complete. On April 13, members of the DePauw community were invited to participate in the finishing stages of Riemensperger’s project by placing a painted handprint on the bench. Riemensperger used her personal social media platforms and word of mouth to encourage members of the DePauw community to decorate the bench in handprints and freehand paint designs.

“I used Instagram, Facebook and Lori [Professor Miles] sent out emails to professors,” Riemensperger said. “The event was on the corner of Hoover and Julian, so it's not like you can really avoid it.”

Rimensperger is happy with the outcome of the project and was excited to get a lot of positive feedback from students, faculty and other members of the DePauw community.

“Everything was on my own time,” Rimensperger said. “It’s nice that you can do these types of things at DePauw.”

Rimensperger had not spent a lot of her time in Peeler prior to this year. Professor Miles helped Rimensperger get acquainted with the art department's facilities and help her facilitate logistics as she used the art studios space to construct the bench and the art department's materials to paint it.

“She was pretty brave to try and bring it forward; it is easier when you are familiar with the facilities or have some familiarity with the professor to start generate new idea, like an independent student idea,” Miles said.

The Positivity Bench project is complete but it has yet to make its official debut on campus grounds. The bench is currently still residing in Peeler but Rimensperger plans on displaying it in Academic Quad or Bowman Park after students return to campus from summer vacation.