Photos: File photos
The year was 1975 and due to an uninterested student population SAB was getting rid of two of its oldest traditions – the Most Eligible Bachelor and the Miss Drake Relays competitions. In an effort to try something new, SAB concocted a new Relays event, one that would go on to outlast all competitions that had come before it. Thus, street painting was born.
The first mention of street painting was in the Friday edition of the Times Delphic on April 18, 1975. On the long list of events, it was sandwiched between the bike marathon and the campus-wide barbeque, given little press for the new event.
At the first street painting – held in the same spot it currently resides – 21 organizations painted their rectangles on the road. In the end, the basement of Kirk Residence Hall took first, followed by the professional pharmacy fraternity Kappa Psi in second, with Kappa Alpha Theta social sorority in third. A small blip was written about the winners in The Times-Delphic and that was that until the next year.
With every following year street painting grew in size and number. By 1982 the number of organizations swelled to 48, with over 600 observers lining the hill. The theme was “Born to Run” and included new competitions and competitors.
In first was Jewett Residence Hall, which depicted a stork holding a bag in its beak. Below were several runners holding cards which spelled out “Jewe t,” with the first “t” arriving by stork. Herriott Residence Hall was runner-up, with their painting that showed a pair of legs mid-stride with the title “Nothing Beats a Drake Pair of Legs,” and incorporating the logo for a nationally advertised brand of panty hose — the idea thought up by artist Kirk Miller’s mother. Other winners included the women of Delta Gamma for most original title, — “Adam and Eve” — most colorful was awarded to the foreign students association, and in its street painting debut, the Student Alumni Association received best theme with a newly hatched chicken running from a broken egg.
Other themes have included: A Day at the Races, A Classic Tradition, Off to the Races, All That Glitters, The Heat is On, The Time of your Life, It Can do Magic, and Stride with Pride.
Now, 56 squares are allotted for painting and well over a thousand observers. As it has been since the beginning, the theme for each Relays is dreamed up by the SAB Relays Committee.
Director of Student Leadership Jan Wise’s office is home to much of the swag given out during street painting, at least within the last 30 that she’s attended. From Frisbees to water bottles and knapsacks to pens, Wise has just about everything trinket wise.
“They used to just give out buttons,” Wise said. “But they had to make them all by hand, and if you’ve ever made a button by hand, well, it’s just a pain.”
Wise said there has only been one year since it’s inception that it almost didn’t go on, but no matter what, the street has always gotten painted.
“In the early 80’s Hillel said they didn’t want to paint on Saturday because of their religious beliefs, so they were given permission to paint Friday,” Wise explained. “So on the street, there were 50 squares, all white, with the one Hillel square painted. But on Saturday the rains came, and on Sunday the rains came, same for Monday and Tuesday. Finally on Wednesday it was a decent day so people went out and painted the street. We really thought that we were going to have rain all the way through and it would go unpainted.”
Street painting has given birth to traditions of its own, one of which has included streaking. Though more common in the early years, it has still been known to happen on occasion.
“One time someone streaked on a bicycle and rode down the street,” Wise said. “But they typically get arrested or picked up by the police.”
Another tradition has been to throw paint, although this wasn’t the norm until around 8 or 9 years ago, according to Wise.
“Before they would just play music, a few people would paint a square and people would just be back there being a part of it,” Wise said. “If you got paint on you it was because you accidentally step in it. I always worry about people’s behavior, and maybe the wrong person gets hit with a paint can and that could be the end of it.”
One thing that has remained consistent is the excitement of those participating.
“Even when you’re a block away you can hear it,” Wise said. “This unstoppable roar. The roar of the crowd.”