Citizen Scholars install sexual assault awareness public art
Students from the College of Arts and Letters Citizen Scholars program recently proposed and installed a public art piece, titled "Reweaving our Social Fabric: Fiber Installation to Promote Sexual Assault Awareness and Healing," in downtown East Lansing’s Valley Court Park.
The installation incorporates fabric strips woven into a chain link fence in the park. Some of the strips of fabric include positive affirmations, all centered upon healing and recovery, that were written by members of the community.
As the creation team stated in their proposal, the project serves as a visual metaphor for voices that historically have been ignored, quieted and silenced.
The concept came from sophomore Isabel Humphrey-Phillips, an art history and visual culture major, and junior Allison Steffen, an apparel and textile design major, as well as faculty members Teresa Dunn, associate professor in the Department of Art, Art History and Design, and Sandra Logan, director of the Citizen Scholars program.
“Public art projects offer an ideal opportunity for collaborations between MSU students and the broader Lansing/East Lansing communities,” Logan said. “Art allows us to speak across differences in language and culture, provides openings for dialogue about difficult issues, and beautifies our cityscape, drawing us together. We’ve received a flood of positive responses to the concept and project – people are really appreciative of this approach to community engagement and healing.”
With the international symbol representing sexual assault awareness being teal-colored ribbons, the creation team chose teal as the main color for the piece.
“We wanted to incorporate guerilla knitting with what was going on on campus,” said Humphrey-Phillips. “We worked closely with Professors Logan and Dunn to propose our idea to the city of East Lansing and to make this a community-driven project.”
Humphrey-Phillips worked on organizing the events and community engagement, while Steffen used her textile design background to collect different materials needed for the project.
One of the main goals of the project was to collaborate with the East Lansing community to create something that would be seen by all, not just students on campus.
Citizen Scholars held two events to collect materials and to speak with the community. The first event, held at the East Lansing Public Library, provided an opportunity for community members to contribute. Not only did this event allow for the community to contribute to the public art piece, it also gave students an opportunity to interact with East Lansing citizens and to build bridges between the Citizen Scholars program and the East Lansing community. The second event, located at the MSU Main Library, drew in other Citizen Scholars and students from across campus.
“The installation day was so amazing,” Logan said. “We had a group of students, faculty and community members working together to bring this artistic project to life, sharing their stories and feelings as they collaborated to realize our students’ vision. It was a truly inspirational experience.”
From afar, the installation looks like a solid pattern. Viewed up-close, it reveals messages from the community such as: “In community lies strength” and “Say your truth.”
“We want to focus on healing,” Humphrey-Phillips said. “We encouraged people to write positive words of healing on their fabric to show their support.”
The project was completed on April 21 during the Big Green Gig event and can now be viewed at Valley Court Park. Students and community members are welcome to add to the project by writing supportive messages on the fabric strips that have been installed, or by adding fabric to the design to represent their own experiences and voices in relation to the installation’s theme.
The project was funded by both the city of East Lansing Arts Commission and the College of Arts and Letters Citizen Scholar program and will be on display through the summer and into fall.