Cranes spread hope, unity across Shoreline’s campus

Emma Parkinson, an Associates in Fine Art major, poses in front of her art installation of 1,000 cranes in the 4000 building. The piece was created for Professor Matt Allison’s 3D design class.

Toward the rear of the main floor of the Ray W. Howard library, on a wall just south of the Math Learning Center, 1,000 origami cranes folded by Shoreline students, staff, and faculty hang as a reminder that even the littlest gestures can bring delight and positivity into the world.

The public art installation is the brainchild of Emma Parkinson, a freshman in Shoreline’s Associate of Fine Art program. The piece represents her final project for professor Matt Allison’s winter Three-Dimensional design class, in which students are tasked with proposing, constructing, and installing a site-specific piece out of any material they choose.

Parkinson had a few ideas in mind for her project, but dialed in on the cranes—which, in Japanese culture, are a symbol of hope and healing during challenging times—after the 2017 presidential election.

“It was the day after the election and I just felt despair,” said Parkinson. Susan Barclay, Parkinson’s anthropology professor, sensed that a lot of students in Parkinson’s class felt the same. So Barclay told Parkinson and her classmates to write down one positive thing on a piece of paper and hand it to someone random on campus. The exercise in spreading positivity brightened Parkinson’s spirits and sparked an idea.

Coupled with her experience in Barclay’s class and remembering an experience from 7th grade in which she and her classmates folded and sent 1,000 origami cranes to survivors of the 2011 Japanese tsunami, Parkinson decided to use her art project to bring unity, positivity, and hope to campus. She would enlist the campus community in creating an art installation of 1,000 origami cranes.

Photo credit: Emma Parkinson

While the idea of recruiting students and staff to fold cranes may sound simple at first blush, the reality of mobilizing enough participants to complete the project within the deadline of the class was daunting.

“I wasn’t sure I could get people I didn’t know to sit down and fold the cranes,” Parkinson said. “I was so hesitant about being able to pull it off, even just organizing the logistics of it, that I almost backed out, but the professor (Matt Allison) was really encouraging and supportive of the idea. He allowed me to extend the completion date into spring quarter, so I knew I had to go for it.”

Parkinson secured space for the installation in the library and then coordinated with various departments across campus to set up stations where students and staff could spend time creating the cranes. “I left materials, instructions, and a collection bin at each station,” said Parkinson. “I even created a YouTube video of myself making a crane that people could watch if they were more visual learners.” (Stations were housed in the Visual Arts Center, International Education, the Counseling Center, Advising, and the makerspace in the library.)

Setting up such an involved crowdsourced art project taught Parkinson some valuable lessons about what it takes to be a working artist. “I had never done anything so big like this before,” said Parkinson. “I learned a lot about how to organize, hold meetings, approach people, create proposals, and manage time. It was an invaluable learning experience, and I feel better prepared to tackle even bigger challenges in the future.”

The learning curve was steep, but Parkinson’s organizational efforts paid off. “I was very nervous I wasn’t going to get anyone to participate, but the first day I went to pick up the cranes I was pleasantly surprised. About 100 cranes were made in just that first day, and by the end of seven days I had about 500 cranes. We reached the goal of 1,000 cranes in just three weeks. It was amazing how fast it all went.”

While completing the project on time was always the goal, the swift completion was a bit bittersweet for Parkinson. “One of the main things I loved about this project was going around to the various stations around campus and just sitting with the students making the cranes and talking to them about what the project meant to them. Everyone wanted to contribute good, and that was really heartening to know we have such a caring community here that seeks unity.”

“It was also really wonderful to see people who were hesitant to even attempt to make a crane because they’d never done it before walk through the process, figure out it was something they could do, and be excited to make their next one,” said Parkinson.

“And I was surprised by how unique each crane was,” Parkinson continued. “I thought there was only one way to make a crane and that they’d all look the same, but people’s individuality definitely came through in how they created their cranes. It added to the depth of the project and served as a reminder that our uniqueness is what makes our community beautiful.”

There is currently no set end date for the installation, so the campus is encouraged to go enjoy it while they can. “I really want the people who contributed to come see it and know they were a part of this little bit of positivity. Because cranes are like that, you see them and you just brighten up and smile.”

Parkinson, who has a year left at Shoreline, hopes to transfer to a 4-year university after completing her AFA. She also hopes to find a way to continue making the cranes as a means to connect with people.

Learn more about areas of study in Shoreline’s AFA program.

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