The percussion of reflection

Get behind the scenes with a student-driven public art project that asks tough questions about sexual safety. The work debuts at the annual ARTS FIRST festival at Harvard. 

By Jake Stepansky '17

We stood in the center of the Adams Art Space, ringed by 12 glass towers we assembled that morning. They were unfinished, certainly – a new team will add color and design after a brief lunch break – but they exuded a sense of regality and somber purpose. “How does standing here make you feel?” asked Delfina Pandiani ‘17, one of the co-designers of the art project. The responses from the build team varied widely – “proud,” “overwhelmed,” “implicated” all made the cut – but one theme kept surfacing: “urgency.”

The urgency is real.

The structures, currently residing in each of the 12 student residential houses at Harvard University, are part of Where Do We Go from Here? – a public art installation responding to the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, published in 2015. After several gatherings of arts leaders on campus, four students – Martinez-Pandiani and Devon Guinn ‘17, in collaboration with Where Do We Go from Here? Photo: Mark OlsonMikhaila Fogel ‘16 and Ileana Riverón ‘17 – signed on to create an artistic response to the troubling survey results, drawing on important ideas and themes shared by student community members, staff and faculty. Visual artist Ross Miller ’77 has also stepped in to help the student team actualize the ambitious designs.

Where Do We Go from Here? will be presented at the annual ARTS FIRST festival, an open-to-the-public celebration of the arts April 28-May 1 at Harvard. The piece has been written about in the Harvard Gazette and Harvard Crimson

Clearly, the question at the heart of the project has resonance. 

“The artists have been deeply thoughtful and deliberate in developing this project,” said Jack Megan, director of the Office for the Arts at Harvard. “From the beginning, they sought to use art to raise awareness, stir reflection and activate discussion about community – what it means to be part of one and who is responsible for creating safe environments. They are using art to make change, art that asks each of us to stop, think and share.” 

As the creative teams packed up supplies and admired their artistic handiwork, one student remarked on how incredible it was that these physical structures have finally been realized after months of planning and preparation.

She was right.

The project has felt overwhelmingly necessary and timely, given the recent and increased attention to sexual assault on Harvard’s and other campuses around the country, but has taken several steps to get to the point of implementation. I’m not at all familiar with construction, but Miller made the process as smooth as the glass slabs that we were slotting together. 

That said, even once all the plans had been laid and the materials had been gathered, building the towers definitely took time and effort – and so as we stood in the center of the Adams Arts Space, ringed by 12 glass towers we’d been assembling that morning, we couldn’t help but take a moment to take in the emotional percussion of the work we’d done.

Where do we go from here?