Building Bridges

“Making connections by Building Bridges with and between imaginations is the best way to build a human community! Wonderful Vibrant Work!”

“This is all so very beautiful! Both the art and the community it builds. We all need to get to know each other a little (or a lot) better so we can appreciate the whole person, not just the work they do here.”

“Indonesia is where I am from. ‘Membangun Silaturahmi’ this is the phrase we use for Building Bridges. Here I am today, here at UMass Amherst; I am ready to build a bridge with you all.”

group photo from our December 2019 lunch gathering and Photovoice exhibit

Building Bridges is a UMass public art and engagement initiative that draws on the power of solidarity and creative expression to bring people together and create a bridge 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. The initiative is a collaborative effort between The Partnership for Worker Education, Civic Engagement and Service-Learning (link) and the Office of Equity and Inclusion (link).

Building Bridges has four core projects: a participatory art installation made up of three 10-foot tall towers; Our Immigrant Voices, which seeks to amplify the voices of immigrant workers on campus; Showcasing Worker Artists at UMass, which explores ways of highlighting the art created by UMass employees, and Worker Rights as Human Rights, which helps to reveal the interconnectedness of workers’ rights with all aspects of human rights. 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.

About the Showcasing Worker Artists at UMass Project 

This Project highlights worker artists and the art they create. The inspiration for this class draws on work done by Joe Connolly and the Labor/Management Workplace Education Program in the 1990s through a program called “We are More Than You See.”  The program brought together workers and supported the development of worker artist exhibitions, publications of worker writing, and a radio show hosted by UMass workers.

Showcasing UMass Worker Artists extends that legacy and 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. Four course sessions have met since spring 2018. Course participants have played a pivotal role in organizing exhibitions on campus and in organizing the two showcase events. Their work has been exhibited at the Science and Engineering library gallery, the W.E.B. DuBois Library, the Fine Arts Center, and digitally around campus.

About the Our Immigrant Voices Project 

This project has sought to amplify the voices and visibility of immigrant workers on campus. Four class sessions have met since spring 2018, creating two unique sets of Our Immigrant Voices panels. Each set of panels – one that is 20-feet and another that is 24-feet long - provide snapshots from conversations that have taken place during the courses. Participants contribute and choose these quotes and images to be shared with the campus community in order to stimulate dialogue, reflection, and engagement about the experiences of immigrant workers. The panels have been exhibited at two Building Bridges showcase events, in the Whitmore Administration Building, and at the International Staff and Faculty Orientation.

In fall 2019, we undertook a Photovoice project and created five panels that included images, personal narratives and portraits. ​Course participants identified and then creatively documented issues that are important to them. This participatory action research technique, created by Carolyn Wang and Mary Ann Burris, invites people who are oftentimes overlooked to “identify, represent, and enhance their community” through photography and in doing so become “catalysts for change.” Participants identified five themes that are important to their experience here on campus and that they wished to share: Respect in Action, Feelings of Invisibility, Our Values, Beauty in Nature and Personal Development. The diversity of the themes is emblematic of the different experiences here on campus and underscores the fact that people’s days are filled with a variety of interactions, feelings and personal moments of reflection. These panels were shared at our December 2019 lunch where over 50 people came to see the exhibit and share lunch together. Reactions to the exhibit included:

“Brave, Creative, Informative and Inspiring”

“It was inspiring and very powerful. Thanks so much for sharing this!!”

About the Art Installations and Building Bridges Cards

The Building Bridges Art Installation is made up of three, 10-foot-tall illuminated towers that feature cards submitted by campus community members during spring 2018 and the 2018-19 academic year. Each card individually responds to the questions: “What differences do you want to bridge and/or connect, why, and how can we accomplish this goal?” The cards include a variety of visual and written responses that, when assembled, create a mosaic that spells out “Building Bridges.”  The mosaic is displayed on both sides of each tower. The towers themselves are covered in the phrase “building bridges” in 22 languages spoken on campus. The installations were recently part of an exhibit at the UMass Museum of Contemporary Art and, so far, thousands of people have responded to the call.  

About the Worker Rights as Human Rights Project

Drawing on our campus commitment to Building a Community of Dignity and Respect, this project helps to reveal the interconnectedness of workers’ rights with all aspects of human rights, while showing the ways in which people can come together to advocate for the dignity and respect of everyone. Each semester we offer one course, accompanied by one public film screening and community dialogue that invites UMass staff members to explore a particular aspect of worker rights. Our first semester focused on civil rights and centered on the film At the River I Stand, highlighting the Memphis sanitation workers strike in 1968. The second semester focused on gender equity through the film I Am Somebody, which tells the story of black female hospital workers in South Carolina who went on strike in 1969 for fair wages and union recognition. Future topics will explore worker rights intersectionally, within the context of immigrant rights, issues of class, LGBTQ, age, as well as the role of creative expression and music in collective struggle for dignity and respect.

The courses use film, audio, short in-class readings, and, most importantly, participant experiences and reflections in class discussion to explore historical and current issues, events, and actions. The public film screening anchors each course and provides for a broad-based community dialogue, inviting students, faculty, and staff to engage with and reflect upon these critical issues.

This project is an ongoing collaboration with the UMass Labor Center Director Cedric de Leon, former Center director Pat Greenfield, and associated adjunct faculty.

Our Annual Showcase Event

Our annual Showcase Event provides a platform for Building Bridges course participants to showcase their creative work with the campus.

Campus staff are also invited to showcase their creative expression by exhibiting their work, hosting workshops and demonstrations, and performing. These events are held at the Fine Arts Center atrium and draw hundreds of people from across campus. 

Click here to see the summary video with participant interviews (4 minutes).

Click here to see pictures fro m the event.

Click here to see Guestbook comments from the 2019 event.

Get Involved

To get involved and for more information, contact Project Director Jacob Carter at jacarter@umass.edu or 413-545-1826