Piecing Together Our Diversity“Mosaic is a great way to demonstrate how all the different pieces of our community come together to create something beautiful beyond what any one of us could create on our own.” —President Jon Alger
The first floor of the Rose Library was charged with excitement as students, faculty and staff waited for the unveiling of the new Diversity Mosaic. As artist and James Madison University employee Sarah Swanlund pulled back the paper covering the mosaic, the crowd burst into applause and students rushed to spy their piece in the 48-foot work of art.
At the unveiling reception JMU President Jonathan Alger asked the crowd to reflect on the importance of the campus community creating a great work of art for a library that focuses on the sciences.
A great IDEA
Swanlund was hired as a library assistant in 2012 and soon after noticed the possibility for a major piece of art in the Rose Library. Having created mosaics for other public libraries she thought, “There’s got to be a way I can bring the university community together to create something.” Her timing was fortuitous as the Diversity Office was calling for proposals for its annual Innovative Diversity Efforts Award, better known as the IDEA grant. “That’s it!,” thought Swanlund and she and two colleagues wrote a proposal to create a diversity mosaic in Rose Library.
Glass, grout, glue
According to Art Dean, special assistant to the president for diversity, over 220 IDEA grants totaling more than $200,000 have been awarded since 2006 to enrich diversity and inclusion at JMU. Dean encourages JMU students and employees to apply for these grants. “It’s seed money if you have ideas that will transform our campus to make it more inclusive,” said Dean.
Swanlund used the IDEA grant funds to purchase 130 pounds of glass tile, 50 pounds of grout and 36 tubes of industrial glue that were used to create the mosaic. She fashioned 24 wood canvases and set to work laying out the design and a plan to involve students.
Piece by Piece
The mosaic’s theme is “the night sky.” Swanlund arranged beautiful glass tiles that swirl with deep color to create the background. However, it is the shapes within the mosaic that really stand out. There are 40 orbs and stars created by representatives from 40 diverse student organizations on campus. Swanlund held workshops to teach the students how to create their piece of the mosaic but left the design up to them.
Calvin Walker, a senior political science major from Richmond, Va., created the piece for the Xi Delta chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. He made sure to incorporate the organization’s colors and letters. “I also put several reflective/mirror pieces on the mosaic piece so that when people walked by they could literally see themselves and their own diversity in it,” said Walker.
'People walk by and see themselves and their own diversity in the reflective mirror pieces on the mosaic.'—Calvin Walker
The workshops to create the orbs and stars that represent the organizations were three hours long. Swanlund said she was impressed with the students’ energy and dedication to the project. Moreover, the students’ insight into the importance of a diversity mosaic was touching. Sophomore A. Kathy Corena who created the Student Government Association’s star said, “I think it’s important because it allows students to leave a little piece of them and their organization at school. I think that by having the Diversity Mosaic in Rose Library, it shows the different people and interests that come together to create JMU and the Madison Experience.”
Several of the speakers at the unveiling mentioned the significance of highlighting diversity on campus and the importance of a piece of art that will outlast those in attendance. Swanlund said the finished mosaic met her goals of highlighting both diversity on campus and the library. Reflecting on the whole process from the IDEA grant to the call for student participation to the workshops and finally putting the whole mosaic together she said, “I can only hope that they are delightfully pleased because I think it’s a pretty amazing project – this couldn’t have turned out any better”
Walker summed up the importance of having the Diversity Mosaic at JMU. “The mosaic is merely a representation of the eclecticism and variety that is seen on campus on a daily basis,” he said. “Hopefully, as more people are exposed to the Diversity Mosaic in Rose Library, more people will be inclined to celebrate the diversity we have here at Madison.”
Diversity Mosaic: http://guides.lib.jmu.edu/mosaic
By Paula Polglase, University Communications
January 17, 2014