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Pink Arrow Ts bring community together again, artfully

Tapestry project is district’s ArtPrize entry

Lowell — Kaidance Martino doesn’t mince words when talking about the pandemic-related trials of the past school year.

“Last year, for lack of a better term, last year sucked,” the Lowell High School junior said. “It was truly awful. There wasn’t really much joy or community around the high school, like, at all. It was more like we were just waiting for the next disaster to happen.”

That’s why she was eager to lend a hand this fall with a district- and community-wide art project spearheaded by LHS teachers, to get the year started on the right foot. 

“This year, starting it off with something that was community-building and really fun, honestly, that felt really good,” Kaidance said. “We all have hopes and dreams, and we’re all putting them into one big project, together. It just feels great to be a part of something that can make so many people happy after something that was so horrible.” 

“I like that we’re coming back together after something hard with a big community thing.”

— Emma Schmidt, Lowell High School senior

“Dreams Intertwined” is the name of the art piece, a tapestry of fabric circles woven together from strips of donated “Pink Arrow” T-shirts. At the beginning of the school year, every student in Lowell Area Schools was invited to write their hopes, dreams or goals for the year on a strip of fabric. 

They also solicited contributions from area businesses and organizations, including Senior Neighbors, Gilda’s Club, Green Acres and the Lowell Rotary Club. Students then wove all the dreams together during classes and at the district’s annual Pink Arrow football game and cancer fund raiser. 

The result: a weaving with contributions from more than 4,000 people, is on display as an ArtPrize entry at First Park Congregational Church in downtown Grand Rapids. Throughout ArtPrize, visitors who stop by to see “Dreams Intertwined” will be invited to write down their own hopes and dreams, which students will add on to the tapestry at the conclusion of the art competition. 

Teacher Emma Bandos, left, and student Tru Marsh display how the tapestry will look once it’s hung at Park Church for ArtPrize (courtesy)

Art as a Solution

LHS Spanish teacher Sarah Ellis, who spearheaded the project with art teacher Emma Bandos, said the idea came about after witnessing “a lot of disconnect in our community” in the past 18 months. 

“We wanted to find a solution to bring people together in a positive way,” Ellis said. “A big part of this was wanting to connect with each other, elevate all of our hopes and dreams and show the world what we can do together. And then, in weaving it together, we’re saying, OK, your hopes and dreams are literally going to be tied to mine. We actually have to depend on one another for these things to come true.” 

Ellis said they got about 90% participation from LAS classrooms, thanks in no small part to students like Emma Schmidt, who volunteered in August before classes started to do some prep work. During Pink Arrow Community Day, Emma and her friends spent hours cutting T-shirts into strips. She also volunteered to hand out classroom kits and explain the project to teachers at their professional development day. 

Like Kaidance, Emma said she had been craving a way to reconnect with others after a year of distancing. 

“There is nothing I love more than having an invigorating conversation with a stranger, and I had a severe lack of that last year, which did take a toll on my mental health,” Emma said. “It was fun to be able to talk to others about what we were doing, and we had so many random people who helped us out with materials or scissors—it was so nice.

“I like that we’re coming back together after something hard with a big community thing,” she added. “This is a district-wide phenomenon. Inclusivity is really important to me, and I hope that the kids in elementary school can feel like they are a part of our bigger community and they’ll be able to grow up into it.”

“In weaving it together, we’re saying, OK, your hopes and dreams are literally going to be tied to mine. We actually have to depend on one another for these things to come true.”

— LHS Spanish teacher Sarah Ellis

Sophomore Tru Marsh, one of the 78 weavers who helped connect the circles, enjoys poetry and symbolism; for her, helping with “Dreams Intertwined” was a symbolic way to support other people’s dreams. But it was also a way for Tru herself to meet more people at school. Her family is new to Lowell and she spent her freshman year—her first year in the district—as a remote student.

“I’ve been alone basically all last year with online school, which made it hard to get to know people. So now I’ve jumped into, like, both high school and face to face with everybody, and it’s been pretty crazy getting used to it all,” Tru said. “Doing a community project like this has helped a lot. And I know a lot of people feel alone like me, and I hope they can feel like they’re not alone in their dreams when they see (the tapestry).” 

“Dreams Intertwined” will be on display at First Park Congregational Church as an ArtPrize installation through Oct. 3. The piece will also be available for sale through ArtPrize’s new online auction platform. Any proceeds from the sale of the tapestry will be donated to the Lowell Education Foundation and district Diversity, Equity and Inclusion measures.

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is a reporter and copy editor, covering Rockford, Lowell, Grandville and Cedar Springs. She is an award-winning journalist who got her start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate, she later returned to her alma mater to help manage its national writing festival and edit and write for enrollment communications. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press, Fox 17 and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio

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