Art Exhibit Sheds Light on a Secret, Shameful Taboo
These glass books tell a different type of story
Visitors to the John Cotton Dana Library expect to see books – but not like these. Now through March 1, the library is exhibiting glass sculptures from the GlassBook Project, an imaginative and evocative way to raise awareness of psychological trauma and self injury.
The exhibition, created by Rutgers students as artists’ interpretations of that experience, is open during regular library hours in the lobby at the Dana Library on the Newark Campus.
The project began last January, when Rutgers-Newark instructor Nick Kline challenged the students in his Department of Arts, Culture and Media book arts class to learn about the taboo topic of self injury. The students met with trauma survivors and mental health experts, and then worked with the staff at GlassRoots, a glassmaking studio in Newark serving local youth, to turn their understanding into visual glass art. The entire process took only four weeks.
The assignment evolved far beyond anything that Kline might have imagined. It led to development of the GlassBook Project – a program of the national nonprofit organization Witness Justice and Rutgers – designed to facilitate a nationwide collaboration among universities, mental health organizations, and trauma survivors to educate communities on responses to psychological trauma that are often misunderstood.
Along the way, the student projects became the centerpiece exhibition in Hollywood’s Paramount Theater during the annual Voice Awards. The books were also exhibited at the federal office building for the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration, (DHHS/SAMHSA), where in preparation the books needed to be appraised for insurance purposes.
Kline said the appraised value for the 19 books exceeded $20,000, largely because of their social value and impact, which appraisers compared to the well-known AIDS quilt.
"The GlassBook Project has been a series of unexpected coincidences” Kline said. “I think, given where we are as a nation in reforming mental heath, communities are open and ready to explore these issues that are real for so many survivors. When communities start to understand these trauma responses, there’s a better chance for survivors and mental health communities to experience the healing relationships that can make a big difference.”
At the 2009 Voice Awards in October, hosted by Richard Dreyfuss, the audience was treated to the debut of the GlassBook Project video and had a chance to view the books in the foyer. The awards honor television and movie writers and producers for presenting realistic, dignified portrayals of people with mental health problems.
The GlassBook project has grabbed the attention of legislators, government agencies, state departments of mental health, universities, and trauma survivors.
The Center for Mental Health Services, DHHS/ SAMHSA provided a grant to develop an adaptable national curriculum, create a brochure, and exhibit the books at their museum in the federal office building. It is reviewing a proposal to implement the project across the nation.
Just a few weeks ago Mental Health Weekly's Innovations issue featured the project as one of five mental health initiatives considered the most innovative and promising in the country.
"The GlassBook Project has been one of the most meaningful collaborations we’ve ever had,” said Helga Luest, president and chief executive officer of Witness Justice. “The momentum and enthusiasm around the project is a clear sign that it is much more than just an art project – it's an agent for social change.”
Project participants have also received significant recognition for their work. Conceptual creator and artist Kline is receiving the Community Engagement Award at the university. He has also been nominated for the international “Changemakers” Award, which is sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
One of the student artists from the first book arts class, Samantha Glovin, is creating a documentary film about the project and another, Nora Luongo, created the initial GlassBook Project website.