UK Community Called to 'Witness'

photo of Olivier in Memorial Hall

Monday, Oct. 1, 2015

Over the past several years, our campus community has engaged in deep and thoughtful conversations about an iconic building on our campus.

Memorial Hall, constructed to honor Kentucky soldiers who died in World War I, is home to a fresco work by Kentuckian Ann Rice O’Hanlon. The mural has been the source of ongoing debate and courageous conversations on our campus and in our community.

This fall, we were pleased to add a new and important dimension to those conversations. The gold-leafed artwork, “Witness,” which features African-American and Native American images, hopes to shine new light on underrepresented and overshadowed figures from our state’s history.

This magnificent artwork was completed by Philadelphia-based artist Karyn Olivier.   

When community members enter Memorial Hall today, their eyes will be drawn upward to this new piece of art in the dome at the building’s entry. "When you look up, it looks like a Byzantine chapel," Olivier said of her work inside Memorial Hall. "It demands reverence."

As President Capilouto wrote to the campus, “the word witness is both a noun and a verb. It speaks to the intentional act – the strong declaration – of telling a story. And it stands as a testament to the idea, deeply embedded in who we are as a university, to the responsibility we each share to both observe and testify to notions of truth and value, community and belonging.”

The road to installing this incredible piece of art involved so many across our campus.

A committee, appointed by President Capilouto, developed a comprehensive plan to provide context and consideration for the mural and its presence in our community. And once we selected Karyn Olivier as an artist, our Facilities Management staff were instrumental to the installation’s success.

The process began by removing the World War I plaque, which was previously hanging in the area inside the dome. Facilities Management staff members also lowered and re-lamped the large chandelier hanging from the base of the dome, before completely repainting the upper part of the dome’s interior..

Two personal lifts inside the space allowed Ms. Olivier to safely access the dome itself to install her work. University staff personnel assisted throughout the entire process, ensuring the installation proceeded as smoothly and expeditiously as possible.

When we think about all that we have achieved and all we still hope to accomplish on this campus—from fostering a sense of belonging, to championing student success—we’re reminded that we succeed as a team: as a community.

This process was a shining example of that commitment. I’m thankful to all of the staff in Facilities Management—and all others across our campus—who joined in making this exceptional piece of art a reality. 

Thank you for what you do every day on behalf of the University of Kentucky.


Eric N. Monday