Bright colors and bold patterns surround Oregon State University student Teressa Hartley as she stands in the Pan-Afrikan Sankofa Conference Room in the Memorial Union. But what draws her attention is a print by Portland artist Isaka Shamsud-Din, depicting African American residents fleeing their homes in the former housing development of Vanport, in Portland.
Hartley, a junior in interior design, knows the story of Vanport well. Her grandparents, like many other Vanport residents, were forced to flee their home with only a suitcase between them after a dike holding back the Columbia River burst, flooding the makeshift town.
Honoring the rich history of the African American experience is an important part of the redesign of the Memorial Union conference room, and Hartley is establishing her own place in history as the first student to be hired as a project manager for the redecoration of an MU room.
During her sophomore year, while Hartley was working at the Black Cultural Center on campus, she and other BCC members were asked by a group of senior design students to provide input on the re-decoration of a conference room in the MU. The students, under the direction of Associate Professor Carol Caughey, were tasked with creating an African American theme for the room, and asked the BCC students about their childhood homes and their perceptions of African American style, using that information to create suggested interior designs. Eventually, the designers were asked to reflect a broader African theme, to be inclusive of all people of African heritage.
Hartley joined a committee of students and staff to choose from eight different designs created by the students, and was pleased by the choice of bold colors and patterns that were finally selected.
“I thought it was awesome,” she said.
So when Hartley heard that she could apply for a Promise Internship during Summer 2009 to manage the actual redesign of the room, she immediately applied, and was hired as project manager. The opportunity not only allowed her to participate in a room that honors her own heritage, but it falls in line with her dream of being a commercial designer.
“It’s more complex and interesting,” to design a public space, she said, so that rather than redoing someone’s bedroom, you’re making over an entire office or building. “You have the abilty to affect people’s lives with something larger.”
Supporting the MU mission
Kent Sumner in the Memorial Union said the project manager position was opened up to student interns to support the MU’s mission to include student designers and workers in its projects, and also ended up saving money. He said this project was so successful that they will likely continue using intern project managers.
As project manager, Hartley had to oversee the final designs of the room, which eventually included extending the redecoration to an adjoining room. She kept workers on a timeline, helped manage a budget, and did everything from making sure the paint colors worked well to making decisions on the height of a door when they added a closet into the space.
The best advice she received during her work was from her supervisor, Sid Cooper, who told her to “Own the ground you stand on.” She said the project helped her learn to trust herself and her decision-making abilities. She also said the project was truly a team effort, and she was thankful for the support she received.
Sustainability was as important in the room as keeping an African feel, not only for budget reasons but to honor OSU’s mission to be environmentally conscious. A majority of the artwork was pulled from pieces hidden in MU storage, and simply reframed. When a decision was made to create a doorway between the two rooms, discarded doors were refinished and reused in the space. The chairs were reupholstered with new fabric, and the carpeting contains recycled materials, and is laid in tiles, so if one portion is damaged it can easily be replaced with little waste.
A mural made up of quotes from prominent African and African American thinkers adorns the back wall of the conference room. Hartley and Earlene Wilson-Huey of the Ujima Education Office chose the quotes, which were then put into a design by a graphic arts student, and painted by Corvallis artist Dale Draeger.
The word Sankofa in the conference room’s new title refers to the West African symbol of a bird, reaching over his shoulder to grab an egg. Hartley said that image is deeply meaningful to the intent of the room.
“It’s about us reaching into the past and grabbing what is valuable, and using it to move us forward.”
The room will be dedicated during a ceremony at 5 p.m. Oct. 13 in the Memorial Union main lounge.
~ Theresa Hogue