If you had been at Park recently, you might have seen a wonderful collaboration between our World Languages Department and our Makerspace taking off, with the help of Park’s Alumni Office.
Park’s Mandarin Teacher, Bei Zhou, and Makerspace Educator, Elaine Hamilton, read in the Summer 2021 Park Bulletin about an exciting public art installation that came about last year in celebration of the Lunar New Year – a series of banners created by Park alumnus Andy Li ’04 to celebrate the Year of the Ox. They found the banners to be not only beautiful but affirming, effectively raising awareness of and celebrating Asian-American heritage and tradition, while inviting broad, community-building engagement in the public space. They wondered, How might the Makerspace support our Mandarin language students in creating a similar set of banners here at Park to celebrate the Year of the Tiger?
With the help of Jamie Byron, Park’s alumni relations director, Bei and Elaine connected with Andy Li, who happily agreed to Zoom into the classroom and talk to students about the project. He explained how the Rose Kennedy Greenway organization contacted him about a possible installation. He explained the challenges – the importance of creating a public art installation on budget that would withstand the elements and also accomplish his artistic vision and goals of cultural representation. Among the challenges, he explained, was how to make something representational that is also very abstract. The Ox itself may be easy enough to present, but the essence of the tradition lies in the values and attributes the various animals express.
Digging into Chinese mythology, Andy came to understand that the Ox’s key attributes are hard work and dedication. The very process of creating the installation became an act of honoring the attributes of the Ox, who wants to be recognized not for itself, but for the work it does. Using text, he drew viewers into the experience, to digest the message in their mind, and then bring the insight gained forward into the world. He explained the choice of colors, yellow and green, representing agriculture and the fields of wheat an ox would plow. Installed at the end of the Greenway nearest to Chinatown, the series of flags – with Chinese characters on one side and English on the other – were visible to passersby coming and going in both directions, and served to connect the two.
The project hit plenty of snags that Andy and his four teammates – including a fabrications specialist, an engineer, a member of the Rose Kennedy Greenway team, and an art installer – needed to work through. He notes, “The Ox symbolizes thriving through difficulty. You need to keep doing what you do without giving up. I realized, I am now the Ox – I have to keep doing my best, working through the problems.” The team had to keep pivoting, working together, which, he says, “is what makes a good team. The Ox pulls everyone through.”
As the Park Mandarin students set out to follow Andy’s example, the learning opportunities were many, layered, and cross-disciplinary. Beyond just learning about the Lunar New Year, students needed to apply Mandarin language and Chinese cultural understanding while also learning how to work with the vinyl cutter. In designing their messages, they sought to raise awareness and affirm Chinese cultural identity within the Park community, while also broadcasting the community’s shared resilience through positive, inspirational, student-created messages. Above all, the project provided students with an opportunity to share joy – visibly and publicly – with other students and with Park families.
The project also challenged students to be deeply reflective of the values and lessons we can learn from Chinese tradition. Just as Andy sought to capture the essence of the Ox in his work, Park students sought to understand and articulate the essence of the Tiger, and find ways to communicate this essence through their banners. Their messages include:
“Be the person you want to be.”
“Never give up.”
“We are stronger together.”
“Be brave. Stay strong.”
“One for all, all for one!”
The students worked together to solve the mechanics of fabrication and installation, partnering through unexpected problems. The project challenged them to exercise collaboration, compromise, determination, and skill. In mounting this collaborative effort, they hope to include the wider community in appreciating the cultural connection they forged through this work. They also sought to embrace and share the possibilities represented by the new year after two years of COVID, sending a message of health and perseverance as we look forward.
Once the banners were complete, Andy Li found time to come to Park to meet the students in person and see the result of their labors. He reflects, “It made my day seeing how proud the students were to show off their work to me. I was, and still am impressed by their ability to take on the project so quickly! In just a few weeks after hearing about my process, each class was able to turn the Year of The Tiger into an installation of their own! What fascinated me was seeing the tools from the Makerspace they used in creating the banners and also hearing about how they overcame some of the obstacles that arose in the creative process. It really was a great way to kick off the Lunar New Year on such a positive note!”
Andy’s visit provoked a wonderful way to wrap up an already great experience, and we are grateful to all for this gift of community connection at Park.