One day this summer as I was perusing Facebook, I came across a post about a community artwork a woman named Nancy Belmont started. It was a large installation comprised of pvc poles, identifying signs, and miles and miles of yarn. After watching a video about her project, the Unity Project, I knew it was something I needed to bring into my classroom…into my school.
If you think about the divisiveness happening in the world this summer, #BLM, the Dallas protest, the shooting at the Orlando nightclub Pulse, and the horrible rhetoric spewed by one of the Presidential candidates, you can begin to understand why I would want to bring something like the Unity Project to my diverse school. I wanted the community at my high school, both students and staff, to see that we have more in common than they know…and that underneath it all, we are the same.
I talked with my principal to see if we could create a public installation like this. Right away, he gave me the green light. I gathered the information about what was needed, and I created a GoFundMe to help raise funds. (I desperately wished to fund it myself, but I knew I couldn’t.) The donations started to come in…from personal friends, from colleagues, and from former students. Those that didn’t want to donate money, bought yarn by the skein for my students. I was touched by the kindness of the people in my community.
School started August 22, 2016, and on August 23, my students jumped right in. They sanded the poles and sprayed them black. Our welding teacher had his students cut down steel tubes to put inside the poles to help strengthen and reinforce from the pull the yarn would have on the poles. Students balled up skein after skein of yarn, until finally it was time to go outside and bring out installation to life.
We spent a day setting up the structure. Students hammered 33 steel tubes into the ground and then place the 7′-5″ long PVC pipes over them.
The next day, students were asked to fill out a worksheet where they marked off the identifiers that described them. Identifiers included things like their political affiliation, their religious beliefs, their sexuality, their housing situation, and more. Nothing was asked about their gender or the color of their skin. It was completely anonymous. Next they went outside and grabbed a ball of yarn that began at the center pole and created a path that wove around and through the outer poles. Each outer pole represented one of the identifiers on the list. It became like big blue-green web of yarn criss-crossing back and forth. It was beautiful.
Once all of my students–about 130 in all, each added themselves to the project, other teachers brought their classes out to do the same. My student aides added the yarn of our faculty to the project. I couldn’t believe how much of our school community became part of this artwork. It was amazing. In the end, I estimate that over 350 people are represented by our Unity Project. I also estimate that we used over 6 miles of yarn.
One of my favorite things about this project is the sense of pride the students had. I loved standing outside at the end of the day and seeing the students explain to their friends what it was. I love watching them stand and stare at it, contemplating its meaning. It gave me such a great feeling to know it was successful.
After the Unity Project was complete, I was up at school on a Saturday and a storm rolled in. I walked out of my classroom to see the wind rip through the project. The wind was intense. I thought the project was going to go down, or blow away. But, it withstood the weather, and on the next sunny day, it bounced right back.
What makes this more incredible is that our theme for the school year is “We grow stronger together.” How beautiful is that? How much does it speak the truth when everyone’s yarn held strong, and it wasn’t brought down? Because we are Stronger Together.