Heavy light-rail construction blocking half of the Washington Avenue pedestrian bridge did not deter nearly 300 student groups from participating in Student Unions and Activities’ annual Paint the Bridge event Thursday and Friday.
Last spring the southern half of the bridge was fenced off for safety reasons, causing concern that the 20-year campus tradition — where student groups gather to paint the interior panels of the bridge to attract membership — was in jeopardy.
Debra Anderson, a senior SUA advisor who coordinated this year’s event, said SUA requested access to panels on both sides of the bridge, but University Parking and Transportation Services only approved access to the north side.
She said the available half of the bridge has 315 panels and about 300 groups traditionally participate, so no groups were left out, even with the limited space.
Many, like first-year participants from the new student group Man Choir, said the event was a success.
Member Eric Karn said the group enjoyed the opportunity to mingle with so many other student organizations, making the creation of a bright yellow panel dominated by the image of a lumberjack “as fun as possible” and painting shirtless.
But access to only half the bridge makes the walk between the East and West banks half as enjoyable, Karn said.
He said crowding and the reduced number of displayed panels may make the groups’ work less effective this year.
In the past, groups were able to reserve up to three panels to be painted, but this year, they were limited to reserving one.
All unclaimed panels were made available on a first-come, first-served basis at 11 a.m. on Friday, which caused many groups, like Beta Chi Theta to wait until the last minute to assure they got the space they desired.
They ended up with three panels, but because of the wait the members had only two hours to complete the design.
Sara Thomas and her groups, Music Therapy Student Association and Sigma Alpha Iota, a music fraternity, also waited until Friday to get side-by-side panels.
Thomas said she was happy to hear they would be able to participate despite roadwork. She said the painted panels have a special significance to her.
“It would be really sad to walk the bridge without all of this here,” she said. “This makes the walk from East to West Bank, which as music students we take all the time, a little bit more enjoyable.”
Anderson said they did a lot of same-day registration to fulfill their goal of having every panel on the north end painted by the end of Friday — which they did.
Paint the Bridge has only been cancelled one year in the past. In 2008, the bridge supports had to be reinforced, restricting some of the access to the bridge, so artwork from the previous year was kept up.
This year, panels on the south side of the bridge were painted maroon to reduce the risk of graffiti and to cover up last year’s panels so groups don’t have multiples, Anderson said.
SUA will again request access to both sides of the bridge next fall, but they may only be able to gain access to the south side once construction shifts to the north side.
University student Julie Collier said limited space and initial fears that construction would keep Paint the Bridge from happening made her realize how significant the tradition is to campus life.
“This is how I first found out about it,” she said about Campus Republicans, the student group she currently chairs. “This is great because you can see there’s something here that suits you.”
As a political science major, Collier said seeing the Campus Republican panel — which traditionally features an elephant head protruding from an image of Minnesota — changed the course of her college career.
“Walking this bridge helped me see that there were groups here for me,” Collier, who joined as a freshman three years ago, said. “This helped me find a place to belong, find friends and helped my political career.”