Collective Memory, Community Art Project

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Martin Luther King

“It’s a long time coming, but I know, I know change is gonna come.”Otis Redding

"Tell me of despair, yours ~ and I’ll tell you mine.” Mary Oliver

I don’t think I need to enumerate my despairs here for you. I expect that you, like me are feeling thin and overwhelmed. Maybe you wonder what issue to take up (there are so many) or where to apply your efforts (is anything going to make a real difference?) But if you believe in the power of community and art, stay with me.

I had lunch with a dear friend whom I’ve known for almost 20 years. He asserted that we are making progress while I suggested the Machine seems to be winning. In the end we met in the middle- each reminded that we have in fact bent the moral arc toward justice and yes, it has so much farther to go. He said, “If we look at everything we’ve done so far and decide that it’s made no difference, we’ll give up.” I haven’t given up. So there must be some optimism fueling my long hours, my passionate appeals, my community meetings.

I returned to my office at Harwood Art Center with my mind fixed on finding hope. Soon I was busy returning emails and compiling lists in support of Harwood’s newest community collaboration: the Collective Memory project. I put Otis Redding on and began to envision a community sculpture installation taking shape. Soon I caught myself bobbing around in my office chair. Office dancing, you might say. It suddenly became apparent to me: My path forward is through beauty. It always has been. It’s how I came to be an artist/ community organizer to begin with!

The Collective Memory project is designed to bring our community together to share stories of loss and survival through art. Harwood Art Center will run free* workshops at social profit organizations across the city for artists of all ages and abilities. (Are you a social profit organization who’d like to partner with us? Contact me at

We will introduce some of the fish that have disappeared from the Rio Grande through illustrations and cardboard templates. Participants will reconstruct missing fish and will add fins, tails, and details to make their own unique “species”. We’ll use text, collage, painting, and drawing to enhance our fish and communicate our own stories of loss, challenge, recovery and survival. As a community, we will practice healing and hope by making something beautiful.

Finished fish will join a larger “school” of fish created by participants across the city at an exhibition at Harwood Art Center for Encompass 2018. Then, fish will return home to reside with their makers to remind us of who we are, and what we’ve survived. We’ll hold memory and share knowledge of the place we call home.

Hope then to belong to your place by your own knowledge of what it is that no other place is, and by your caring for it as you care for no other place…”Wendell Berry

Post script: In total we ran 11 workshops toward Collective Memory through Harwood Art Center’s Community Outreach, creating 139 fish. We installed the fish into a school that resembled one large fish and celebrated the project in March at Harwood’s annual Encompass event.

Participants at Heading Home create fish for Collective Memory.

Participants at Heading Home create fish for Collective Memory.

An artist and his personalized Blue Sucker fish

An artist and his personalized Blue Sucker fish

Jennifer DePaolo