“Build Bridges, Not Walls” – A UMass public art and engagement initiative to bring people together

At the 3rd CIE Fall 2019 Dialogue, Jacob Carter (M.Ed. 2012), a current doctoral student and a staff member with the Partnership for Worker Education, and Yi Sun (Ph.D. 2019), led a dialogue about a UMass campus project called Building Bridges.  Jacob has been the director of Bridges since its inception.


Jacob began by explaining that Building Bridges is a public art and engagement initiative that draws on the power of solidarity and creative expression to bring people together and create bridges across difference. The phrase “build bridges, not walls” has become a popular response to the rhetoric of fear and exclusion that has been dominating US headlines. Building Bridges is an effort to counter this fear and exclusion by focusing on the very real and positive possibilities that exist when people come together across race, religion, class, immigration status, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, nationality, and more. 



Yi Sun, the co-facilitator of the Our Immigrant Voices Class, spoke about the challenges of immigrant workers, including those employed at UMass. The workers require education and language training for future promotions and career development. However these workers, especially those working in the Dining Commons, often do not have time for education or training because of the demands of their jobs.




Building Bridges has three core projecs:


  • Participatory art installations feature cards designed by campus community members. Each card individually answers the questions: “What differences do you want to bridge and/or connect, why, and how can we accomplish this goal?”


  • Our Immigrant Voices seeks to amplify the voices and visibility of immigrant workers on campus. Course participants have created two unique sets of Our Immigrant Voices panels. These 20+ feet long installations creatively present snapshots from in-class discussions and have been on exhibition in several locations on UMass.


  • Showcasing UMass Worker Artists, aims to especially recognize essential workers — those who may clean the restrooms, serve food in dining halls, tend the grounds, or engage in clerical tasks—and celebrate their artistic talents in a way that enriches the UMass community. Course participants have played a pivotal role in organizing exhibitions on campus


Each of these projects creates a context for dialogue and produces creative work that engages members of the campus community in building bridges across difference. At the end of each academic year, all three projects contribute to our annual Showcase Event. This event provides a platform for course participants to showcase their creative work with the campus and further engage members of the university community. [10-19]