BRISTOL - “I am a parent.” “I speak English as a second language.” “I identify as LGBTQ.”
These are a few of the many labels, or “identifiers,” that people can choose to reflect their identities, as part of an interactive art installment intended to create a sense of shared experiences among high school students and others in the community.
The Unity Project was created as a senior project by students in the school district’s ACCESS (Accessing Courses and Credits for Special Students) program, which is located in the Adult Education building on Redstone Hill Road. It was done under the guidance of Bridget Gohla, ACCESS teacher.
The basic idea is that 32 fence posts are placed outdoors in a big circle. Each post is labeled with an identifier, and participants tie colorful yarn to posts that reflect their identities. The posts then become interconnected as individuals weave the yarn to physically connect the posts with identifiers they relate to, Gohla explained.
“Eventually, a big canopy gets woven/created by shared experiences. Once completed, this project creates a strong, vibrant, powerful physical representation of our school community’s unity through diversity and shared experience,” she said.
“The canopy in turn provides a visual learning experience that will enable the teachers and staff at the city’s high schools to open and continue the dialogue regarding diversity and build on the idea of acceptance of, empathy for, and understanding of others regardless of differences,” she said.
Gohla said she first heard about the project at Hartford Seminary, where she and her daughter saw a version of it set up and decided to participate.
“I thought it was such an amazing concept for my students to see how, through our differences, we can unite,” she said.
She found out the Unity Project concept originated with Nancy Belmont, CEO and “chief inspiration officer” at the Vessence Corp. In June of 2016, Belmont created it as “a response to the divisiveness and negative rhetoric in American politics,” according to the Unity Project website.
The community-oriented project, which has since spread to more than 20 countries, “promotes human connection, an appreciation of diversity and a realization that we all have something in common. Unity is a larger-than-life structure that helps us celebrate our uniqueness and strengthens our ties to each other,” according to a statement from the project website.
Gohla said the website encouraged people to replicate the project and spells out how to do it. She enlisted the support of the district’s special education programs and high school administrators and got funding through the Bristol Education Foundation, community donations and discounts from Home Depot for the materials.
A week ago, her students set up the project behind Rowley Spring and Stampmaking, by the Adult Ed campus. Students from Bristol Preparatory Academy, which is also located on the campus, participated, along with Adult Ed students and staff, and community members, she said.
The first installment went very well, she said. “It’s really something to see in person. It’s huge, it’s powerful, so many students were moved by it. We had people joking and having fun. We had people in tears. We had people opening discussions. It’s pretty dynamic.”
The project has now been disassembled and the ACCESS students have rebuilt it at Bristol Eastern High School, where students and staff will have the chance to interact with it. After that it will move to Bristol Central High School for a final week.
For more information, visit www.unityproject.net .
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or email@example.com.