How a BU Academy student got a mural on the turnpike 

Lakhani right after completing her mural. (Photo Credit: Shaheen Lakhani)

By Yoon Young (Nicole) Chang

Boston University News Service 

The Charles River Esplanade is known for its scenic views and extensive bike paths, with various pockets of sunshine provided by local artists. A recent Boston University Academy (BUA) graduate now joins the coveted group of local artists as she once dreamed of mural becoming a local attraction on the Charles River side of the Massachusetts Turnpike. 

Sitarah Lakhani, a Boston University Academy alumna and now a freshman at Rhode Island School of Design completed her mural project on the 4000-square-foot wall of the Sargent Gym building at BUA in July. 

Lakhani said she used to take photos of the river every morning as she walked from her home in Cambridge to BUA, but she forgot to do so on a summer day in 2019. As she turned around on the bridge to see the river, she said, a big, ugly wall caught her attention. 

“I needed something to break up my day, take a second and acknowledge something is there,” Lakhani said. “I started thinking what if a mural that I designed was up there.” 

It took three years for her imaginative mural to become a reality. She submitted proposal after proposal, reached out to donors, looked for local muralists and learned the basics of mural installations. When the vibrant, colorful mural of nine women showing diversity and inclusion was finally installed, Lakhani was glad to be surrounded by the colors that bring her joy, and she hoped those colors would do the same to others.

“Even if it’s for a second, it catches your attention,” she said. “It stands out. It doesn’t blend in. There is no way that it can blend in. It pops.” 

Amanda Hill, a local muralist who mentored Lakhani on the project, said Lakhani’s potential to be a great artist was evident in her preparation for the project, even before she met her in person.

“Being able to take this project from an idea into completion is an extraordinarily important skill for an artist to have,” Hill said. “You definitely need that energy of determination and a head down and persevere type attitude when you are an artist, and that was one of the first things I noticed from her.” 

Lakhani said the biggest lesson she learned from the mural project was that everything takes a lot of time and that persistence is everything in reaching success in the arts.   

“I was told so many nos during the process,” Lakhani said. “People have slightly dismissed it a little bit, but I always took no as a yes and kept going.” 

The project not only taught her the skills and attitudes of an artist but also helped her feel comfortable with calling herself an artist. January was a turning point in Lakhani’s life, she said, as she changed her major from mechanical engineering to art while applying to colleges.  

“I wasn’t confident just being seen as an artist… it took a while to claim that identity and be comfortable about it,” she said. “Being able to throw myself fully into the mural was the big thing, and it really helped me take ownership of my decision.”

Lakhani still thinks of herself as a science-based person but wants to use her artistic talent as an advantage. She is now pursuing industrial design, where she can find the best of both worlds. 

“Engineering and art are very similar in their ways of thinking: they are all based on problem-solving, and that’s what I’m good at,” she said. “That’s what I can do and that’s what I want to learn more about.  And I can get problem-solving in engineering or in art as a team principal.”

Through the process of transforming herself from operating in an engineering-focused mindset into the more fluid environment of the arts, Lakhani has been learning the importance of adapting in her life. 

“I’ve been going with the flow, letting things happen, seeing where things go,” she said. “Even if there is a little inkling of doubt, I now know that it’s super valuable to push myself out of my comfort zone and to try everything if presented with an opportunity.” 

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