Brady Nelson Brings Collaborative Artmaking to Inauguration Celebration with Ribbons of Hope Display

girl tying ribbon to display

When Assistant Professor of Art, Program Director of Fine Arts Dr. Meaghan Brady Nelson heard the news that there would be a celebration on campus recognizing the Presidential Inauguration of Dr. Greg Jones, her mind instantly started thinking about the ways collaborative artmaking could be present during the festivities. Brady Nelson’s research looks at ways collaborative artmaking can bring about social awareness and empathy for others, and with Dr. Jones’s emphasis on hope, she knew she could execute a project to create a visual impact with that theme.

Inspired by the ribbon-like “embrace” of the word HOPE in a new mural on campus, Brady Nelson realized ribbons have been used as symbols of hope around the world for many reasons – in hospitals, around trees, to raise awareness for various causes, etc. Using ribbons as a material for the project would be a natural symbol to tie into the inaugural theme, “Let Hope Abound.” She recruited help from 3D Lecturer Thomas Sturgill to weld the giant metal letters of H – O – P – E that served as the resting place for each ribbon that passersby contributed, eventually covering the entire structure in colorful symbols of Hope.

Hope installation

Ahead of the installation, Brady Nelson visited classes in the Watkins College of Art to promote the project and invite students to pre-write on ribbons – so that the day of, there would be some ribbons already attached to make the visual clear, so that anyone that passed by would know what they were participating in.

On the big day, Brady Nelson stationed herself by the letters in front of the Curb Event Center all day and invited anyone who walked by to join the project and add to the “Hope Installation” by writing on a ribbon. She asked people, “Would you like to share your hope?” When people agreed, she prompted them with:

What is your HOPE? This can be written as a wish, a prayer, a statement, a name, an affirmation…What do you HOPE for? Let’s tie our HOPE together as a collective.

Brady Nelson said she was deeply moved by everyone who stopped by. “Some wrote extremely personal messages of hope, stating names of people suffering from cancer, or that ‘you are enough,’ ‘you are loved,’ as well as calls to society in regard to social justice issues,” she recalled. “Many people spent time reading all the ribbons, became inspired to write their own, while some just took the time to pay respect to what they had just read.”

students writing on a ribbon

The collective act of the HOPE installation inspired Brady Nelson as a Belmont community member. “I was deeply moved by how much the project meant to some, and how thankful they were for being able to participate in something like this,” she said. “I was fueled by the kindness and empathy that I encountered all day long.”

Brady Nelson extended gratitude to the students, faculty and staff of the Watkins College of Art that made the Hope Installation come to life, to the University for supporting large-scale collaborative art making projects and to the many people in the community that shared their hope on ribbons and tied them together.

In a recap about the installation after it was complete, Brady Nelson wrote, “Hope is trusting in humanity and knowing that together we have the power to make these good things become a reality. Hope is having faith in the power of optimism. I have HOPE in the power of collaborative art today. Hope is believing that something good may happen and today, something great did.”

students viewing installation outside of chapel

The HOPE Installation is currently outside the Gabhart Chapel on campus, placed in time for a chapel service on November 8 on suicide awareness and prevention. However, Brady Nelson is currently working on finding a permanent home for the display in a space where hope is continuously needed.