‘Connected’ exhibit to create links among strangers

GVL / Emily Frye

Emily Frye

GVL / Emily Frye

Kate Branum

Forming connections with others is a vital part of being human. While some may find it easy to create new connections, others struggle to make the first move, especially after arriving to a large campus like Grand Valley State University for the first time.

Erin Fisher, event and exhibit coordinator for the Mary Idema Pew Library on the Allendale Campus, knows exactly how essential connections are to new students and sought out a fresh way to bring strangers together.

Fisher and her colleague Emily Frigo, the first year initiatives coordinator at the MIP Library, came up with the idea for the exhibit called “Connected.”

Over the summer, Fisher, Frigo and the staff at the MIP library collaborated with the organization Humans of Grand Valley to flesh out the plan for “Connected”.

The exhibit, located in the exhibition space on the first floor of the library, showcases eight different watercolor portraits of GVSU students, all hand-painted by recent GVSU alumna Ellie Lubbers.

Underneath their pictures, the featured students have provided a couple paragraphs about themselves and something unique about their lives.

There is also a space in the room reserved for mounted monitors with matching headsets that allow visitors to hear short clips pulled from student interviews. These raw, unscripted snippets, edited by Len O’Kelly, assistant professor in the school of communications at GVSU, give insight into each student’s major, personal life and some obstacles they have faced.

Interviews and photos for the students selected for the exhibit were conducted during the summer by “Humans of Grand Valley” members, Jaclyn Ermoyan, Gabrielle Patti and Nick Beardslee.

“We got the interviews for the exhibit ‘HOGV style’. HOGV style means that we do not arrange interviews in advance. HOGV prides itself on sharing pure and genuine stories,” Ermoyan said. “Rather than interviews, we like to think of it as just conversations.”

“There are no right or wrong answers and we are really just trying to get to know (the students). We often have humans tell us that they aren’t interesting or don’t have anything exciting about themselves, but everyone has a story to tell. Once people start talking about themselves and their interests, they have nothing but great things to say.”

All interviews collected by Ermoyan, Patti and Beardslee were ultimately narrowed down to the most diverse representations of students and stories. The stories all varied enough so students with different backgrounds and interests could find one that resonated with them.

“These stories are just so diverse,” Fisher said. “Some make me laugh, some of them make me sigh, some of them give me insight into lived experiences that I don’t have and I think all of that is really exciting.”

Fisher said the goal of the exhibit is to get students thinking about their own lives and hopefully find comfort in knowing that there may be someone else on campus going through similar experiences.

“When you’re on a campus as large as ours, it can be really difficult, initially, to make connections with people on a personal level, and I think this exhibit gives visitors a really easy opportunity to do that,” Fisher said. “You have this opportunity to connect with fellow GV students in a way that is both intimate and accessible, and I think in reading other people’s stories, you learn something about yourself and, of course, you get to learn something about others.”

What makes this exhibit unique is not only the personal stories, but an opportunity for visitor participation.

Located in the room is a table filled with watercolor paper cut into dots of all sizes, a few paint brushes and some water. The instructions are simple: paint what you feel.

A color wheel with detailed directions displays a spectrum of colors and coordinating emotions. The end result should be a abstractly painted dot that will hang on the wall. The hope is, by the end of the exhibit, the once bare wall will be covered in a myriad of bright, bold, dark and mellow dots.

“For me, one of the exciting visual analogies is this idea of watercolor as a symbol of the way we experience emotions,” Fisher said. “We don’t ever just experience one emotion at once, like we are never 100 percent happy. You can be happy and nervous at the same time and you might experience happiness more intensely than nervousness. I think the way watercolor bleeds and fades is just an accurate visual representation of how we experience emotions.”

All students at GVSU, especially first-year students are encouraged to come by the exhibit to read and listen to stories and leave a little piece of themselves behind in the form of a little, watercolor dot.

The exhibit will continue daily during regular library hours until Thursday, Sept. 22.