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WLTC Team Spotlight: Monona Public Art Project Gives Visibility, Voice to Lived Experience

Monday, November 15, 2021

Written by Dawn Tevis

Wisconsin Libraries Transforming Communities (WLTC) program provides a pathway by which public library and community teams develop and establish sustainable partnerships. These partnerships highlight the vital role libraries play within a community and the importance of community engagement. This series of 7 weekly articles is the result of the creative relationships and initiatives created by the WLTC 2020-21 cohort, libraries, and community organizations. The results of their work include a deeper level of understanding of and responsiveness to each partner’s needs and resources. Together, the groups are shaping one another’s evolution and helping to ensure Wisconsin libraries continue to serve at the forefront of equity and innovation within local communities.

Monona Public Art Project Gives Visibility, Voice to Lived Experience

  • Jenna Assmus: Adult Services Coordinator, Monona Public Library
  • Mark Buffat: Member, Monona Sustainability Committee
  • Jennifer Fait: WLTC Coach, Milwaukee Public Library

Seeking to support healthy community discourse during a time of intense political division and local disconnect due to COVID-19, Jenna Assmus and Mark Buffat joined forces to create a visible representation of unity within diversity. The UNITY project, created by artist Nancy Belmont and hosted in more than 48 states and 32 countries across the globe, is an interactive public art project designed to raise awareness of how identifiers such as “I’m a parent,” “I identify as LGBTQ+,” “I speak English as a second language,” and more, shape our stories we tell about ourselves and our world.

“As we moved through WLTC, we heard from our community that they missed larger community events and the natural crossing of paths in daily lives,” Assmus said. “This project was a beautiful fit."

Team Monona’s UNITY project on display at Winnequah Park.
Team Monona’s UNITY project
on display at Winnequah Park.

Monona joined forces with the Monona Parks and Recreation Department and Winnequah Park to install a circular arrangement of 32 poles labeled with identifiers, including a blank one allowing community members to add their own. Participants mapped their personal journeys on paper, drawing a line from one identifier to the next in their chosen order, and then contributed to the art piece by securing pink yarn to the poles as they shared on the map. Soon, the yarn formed a canopy of intersections displaying the unique experiences of community members, as well as the ways in which those experiences might overlap. Assmus said the project provided opportunities for spontaneous conversations with participants and passers-by and the chance to recognize and celebrate the fact that even if someone has the same identifiers, they likely took a different path.

Team Monona credits the 18-month WLTC program for continually adding new skill training and offering structures to build on them. According to Assmus, the longevity and design of the program kept them on a learning track with group support, allowing them to grow from learner more effectively to leader within their organizations. Moving forward, the library plans to build on conversations started during WLTC with a series of antiracism programming.

See more posts on the WI Libraries for Everyone page.


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