Story. Art. Community.

What happens when a few high school teachers and students team up to create an event for the whole community?


After months of meeting and brainstorming, these hardworking students and their dedicated teachers watched their idea come to life: a community-centered art project that could echo the themes of our 2016 Big Read, Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat. They teamed up with Ann Chuchvara and Mandy Cano, two talented artists, to design a project that community members could all create together in response to real-life immigration stories from West Michigan.

At 2 o’ clock on a warm Saturday, cultureWorks welcomed around 65 people through their doors. Guests stuck a nametag to their shirt on their way in. Lots of students from local students were in attendance, as well as families and Holland residents who were ready to listen and make.


To begin the program, we were instructed to jot down certain words and phrases that stood out to us from the stories, since we’d be using them later. We listened to students read the stories written by people who had immigrated to West Michigan, and one community member read his own story. The audience laughed as the stories described light-hearted moments of miscommunication and cultural differences, but also listened intently to the struggles and obstacles that come with making such a big transition.IMG_1248IMG_1252

After the stories were told Chuchvara and Cano explained that the group would be creating an installation art piece that afternoon, made up of hundreds of individual reflections on the stories shared, and our fingerprints representing the many personal identities that make up the Holland area. The medium? Tracing paper. “It’s a weak, wimpy material,” as Cano put it, that represents the “fragility” of the immigration experience.


We all got right to work. Quickly the room was bustling with inky fingertips and the fragrance and symphony of Sharpies scribbling on strips of tracing paper. Words and images from the stories were scrawled everywhere you looked- “transition,” “chicken biscuit,” “hybrid,” “nervous.” The space had great energy, and it didn’t take long for feathery masses to pile up at the end of the tables. I was surprised at how quickly the collection grew, and there was something so profound about seeing all those snippets of stories grouped together. It reminded me of the way so many of our stories overlap and blend into one another.




I can’t wait to see the final product! The artists let us know that after pieces are strung together, it will be installed in the Holland Armory to be displayed during the Student Learning Exhibition on November 17. Hope to see you there!

By: Lauren Sweers

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