Spraypainting with Confidence

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By: Alyssa Adler, a student leader at the University of Michigan It was the clearest day Ann Arbor had seen in all of November.  The temperature was mild, there was no breeze and the sky was a lovely shade of blue. The perfect day for Israel advocacy.  As students frequented the Diag, the University of Michigan’s central quad, many slowed their pace as they spotted a crowd gathering on the back edge of the Diag. I watched as the crowds swelled around the three graffiti artists from New York City who spent the entire day each painting a 4x6 mural with the agility of true artists. Beside the artists, what once was a 4x8 piece of plywood was now covered in a colorful array of messages, slogans, names and symbols, many about Israel, all created by students, faculty and community members. One girl came up to me, asking what she was watching. I explained to her that we were the American Movement for Israel, campus’s largest pro-Israel group, and the group of artists we had brought in were promoting peace and creative expression based off of their experiences in Israel. As she inquired more, I told her the story of Artists4Israel, an organization that supports Israel through the unique lens of art expression. The group of artists was, in fact, professional artists who, through Artists4Israel, traveled to Israel and were immersed into the culture, emotion and beauty that is the Jewish State. While in Israel, these artists spent countless hours beautifying the desolate bomb shelters of Southern Israel, shelters for women in need, and even the security fence.  Their stories were both entertaining and awe-inspiring, and what was even more powerful was the fact that these non-Jewish artists became so inspired by a country they previously knew nothing of.  The girl, who was neither Jewish nor opinioned about the conflict, expressed her passion for graffiti art, gave me her card (she was an art student), and asked if she could be a part of our mailing list. It was at that point that I knew our event was a success.

Being on such a large campus, it is only that natural that students are blasted with a plethora of opinions and conflicts. “Support this” or “vote against that” are common phrases heard around the University of Michigan on a daily basis.  As a result, the challenge becomes this: how do I make my matter stand out amongst all of the noise? As we all know, even idea of Israel can be viewed by some as controversial, so the difficulty is getting students interested in Israel without scaring them off. This challenge is one that the entire pro-Israel community faces and is one that my American Movement for Israel board struggled with as we sat down to decide our upcoming year’s programming. The idea of spraypainting murals to support peace was one that drew our attention. Graffiti art is one that is both underappreciated and awe-worthy at the same time. We felt that by bringing in a unique expression of art—which is something that is innately human—and tying it to Israel, we would succeed in drawing in the hundreds of students we fail to reach out to every day because they feel our organization isn’t relevant to them because they can’t relate to our organization’s mission. So as I watched Mike, one of our artists, teach a random passerby how to spraypaint, I knew we had reached out to a demographic that many Israel groups fail to even consider—the apathetic student.

I was grabbing a can of paint for a student when something Mike said caught my ear. The girl he was working with was having trouble spraypainting her name without the paint dripping from her piece of art. “You’ve gotta be confident,” he said as he drew a perfect, drip-free heart, “No hesitations. You can’t back down, you’ve just gotta say, I’m doing this, I’m all in or nothing.” Later that day, when I debriefed with the board, I told them that same thing, but this time, it was in the context of being an Israel advocate. “No hesitations. I’m doing this—all in, or nothing.”

The graffiti artists who came to our campus were: UR New York (2ESAE and SKI): www.urnewyork.com COL Wallnuts


A short video capturing the spraypaint experience, with reflections from the student body: