NEW ALBANY — On a day when the project is more relevant than ever, local students showed their collective strength through public art.
Students from Community Montessori unveiled “Strong Together,” a six-foot sculpture with an even bigger message, at the New Albany-Floyd County Public Library on Friday.
The piece of art was inspired by a mass shooting, but not the Santa Fe High School tragedy on Friday, but rather the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla., just three months ago.
Artist Joe Autry, a parent at Community Montessori, worked with the teens and created the metal heart used as the base for the project.
“After the incident in Parkland there was a national dialogue that ensued between young people and adults,” Hannegan Roseberry, courage coordinator for Community Montessori, said Friday during the dedication ceremony. “Much was said about what teens should or shouldn't do, what they should or shouldn't stand for. There was anger and emotion that's still raging today and misunderstanding with blame being placed in all directions. In February, it was humbling and awe-inspiring to be approached by teens in the middle of the national debate. These teens wanted to focus on a message of love, unity and solidarity. We are living in divisive times, but our teens and our community want to make a public statement of love for our community, for one another and they wanted to remind us all that we are stronger together.”
The sculpture features a heart in the middle of a circle. There are colorful strings tied from the heart to the circle, each tied on by a different student, leaving negative space in the heart. Students from eight local high schools, from public to private to charter, participated in the project by adding a string. The statue represents a simple concept: in the face of school violence, unity is key.
“We are the next generation and we don't want our kids to have to fear going to school just because something might happen. We are students who want to feel safe and we fear for our safety," Samantha Thomas, a senior at Community Montessori and one of the two students who got the project rolling, said. "We want love and peace and we want the safety that we are suppose to have,”
Junior Hunter Gentry (the other student behind the project) said the same, adding, “We decided to make this beautiful heart sculpture … we wanted to show love and not school violence because that's not the norm, it shouldn't be the norm.”
State Rep. Ed Clere (R-New Albany) attended the event and said both tragedies show the need for change.
“Once again we are reminded of why this art was created,” Clere said. “The tragedy in Texas is just the latest reminder … you will see a lot of the usual rhetoric, you will hear about thoughts and prayers. Thoughts and prayers did not stop the tragedy in Texas today and thoughts and prayers are not enough. I don't have all the answers, I don't think anyone here does… I do know that this is one of the answers. What you have done here with this public art, bringing people together in our community, it is part of the solution. We need to come together in a serious and sustained manner and look for solutions. Art speaks to us in a way that other things don't and this is a great example of that. I think art can start conversations. It can challenge people's thinking, cause us to look at things in new ways. The sculpture next to me is a great example of all of that potential.”
The sculpture will remain at the NA-FC Library during the summer.