Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass hosts Building Bridges Showcase

The showcase was in dedication to workers at UMass

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(Lisa Ladas/Daily Collegian)

(Lisa Ladas/Daily Collegian)

(Lisa Ladas/Daily Collegian)

By Lisa Ladas, Collegian Correspondent

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The Building Bridges Showcase’s opening reception took place at the University of Massachusetts on April 11, with artwork being shown off in the Fine Arts Center Atrium in large scale.

Images of immigrant workers were shown, and food, workshops and performances were also offered at the event. The showcase attracted over 300 people, including college students, families, faculty and sponsors.

The event is part of the Building Bridges campus initiative, designed to encourage new connections among UMass community members who come from various backgrounds and hold different viewpoints.

According to the Building Bridges website, the art installations feature cards designed by students, faculty and staff during the Spring 2018 semester. Each piece individually answers the questions “What differences do you want to bridge and/or connect, and how can we accomplish this goal?” The responses are written or drawn on 56 different cards that, when assembled, create a mosaic that spells out the words “building bridges.” The cards are then displayed on an 11-foot tower, showing off the words “building bridges” in multiple languages.

To Jacob Carter, project coordinator for Building Bridges, this is a political project.

“Building Bridges is a public art engagement initiative that draws on the power of solidarity,” Carter said. “It started in the spring of last year as a response to the political climate, specifically the travel ban. There were a number of us that it really resonated with—the phrase, ‘build bridges not walls.’”

“As a team, we have to engage the UMass community on the need of building bridges, because we also know there are bridges to be built on campus,” Carter added. “The important part of the initiative is bringing people together while also talking about difficult, critical issues.”

Carter’s team has been meeting regularly and working over the course of the academic year on three specific projects, two of which are courses at UMass.

One course dedicated to immigrant workers at UMass, titled “Our Immigrant Voices,” and another called “Showcasing Worker Artists at UMass” have been meeting since February. The third project is the “Building Bridges Art Installation.” Cards were handed out at the event to link installation pieces.

The group of UMass employees involved with Building Bridges includes Mara Martins and Joe Connolly.

Martins came to the United States in 1987. As a mother of three kids, she worked as a custodian at UMass Physical Plant for five years. She joined the Bridges program in March. Her involvement with Building Bridges comes from her interest in learning different things about the project, and she takes each idea and incorporates them into her own.

“I like people to see me as they see themselves with no difference, not just because I have an accent,” Martins said.  “Building Bridges is building bridges with all nations and races. This is one way to show UMass that we are not only employees, but we can show other people who we are beyond being a janitor.”

Martins also expressed her desire for everyone to “just love one another.”

Connolly has worked at UMass for 30 years in the Labor/Management Workplace Education Program, the Department of Human Resources and Civic Engagement and Service Learning.

“20 years ago they had workers arts program like the Bridges program that were highly successful,” Connolly said. “It put a human face on workers that are sometimes invisible on campus. The workers art shows were intended to celebrate janitors, secretaries, food service and trade people.”

These efforts were aimed to revive past traditions, as well as incorporate the art installations, the “Our Immigrant Voices” course and UMass workers’ art showcase—all of which were sponsored by Anna Branch, associate chancellor for equity and inclusion.

“The Building Bridges Showcase was highly successful. The three projects exceeded their expectations, and we are totally excited to go to phase two,” Connolly said. “We’re hoping to create an annual tradition on campus, and as a campus, we can celebrate frontline workers building bridges across differences.”

Danielle Clough, junior psychology major at UMass, works as a house manager at the Fine Arts Center.

“I got to watch many people come through the lobby and get to experience not only all of the art, [but] voices and stories from all over campus,” Clough said. “It’s cool that so many people can meet each other, and they can share similar [experiences] that they can relate to.”

Lisa Ladas can be reached at [email protected]

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