This semester, Elena Sparrow ’22 and Dalia Tabachnik ’21 started the Mail Art Collective, a student group dedicated to building a sense of community by creating and sharing postcards. According to the group, participants are now in their second round of cards, centered around the theme of “the old and the new.”
“[Art] is a gift. It’s something we make basically for free, and that we can give away for free. We give a piece of ourselves…We share something we care about,” said Visiting Professor of Art Mary Hart, who serves as an advisor to the group, in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
Sparrow said that the club was inspired by Hart’s Painting I class, which involved a homework assignment that required students to send artwork to classmates through the mail to build community and connection. Tabachnik, who Hart described as having a “caring sensibility for those around her,” approached Sparrow and Hart with the idea to grow the assignment into a club. They met over winter break to discuss logistics and completed their first round of mailings shortly thereafter. Now, over 50 students are registered participants on CampusGroups.
One of those students, Alison Ambrosio ’22, described the initiative as a welcome relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“[The Collective] is a nice way to connect and to get to know more people, which is cool, especially during these times when you cannot have any real connections with people,” said Ambrosio in a Zoom interview with the Orient.
To start off their club activities, Sparrow and Tabachnik sent out a google form to interested students. From there, they paired students and emailed them contact information for their partners.
Ambrosio says she was assigned to someone living in New Haven, Connecticut—a stranger and soon-to-be acquaintance.
“[Mailing art] is something you can do for a person… [it reminds them] ‘there’s someone that doesn’t know but still cares for me,’” she explained.
Hart says mailing art to create community is not a new idea; it first became popular in the 1960s, when artists like Ray Johnson sought to share art outside of conventional means. It was an era, Hart says, that is not totally dissimilar to our own.
“As we’re all feeling stressed and disconnected, [sharing art] seems really valuable right now,” she said.
Ambrosio says the Collective has helped her cope with uncertain times. When she fell out of a routine of making art, the club gave her something to do, instead of just walking around the house. Additionally, Ambrosio said she didn’t have access to a wide variety of art supplies—and the Collective let her use what she had in meaningful and intentional ways.
Sparrow expressed an intention to expand the Collective outside of the Bowdoin community, sending art to residents of the Mid Coast Senior Health Center.
“We are only just getting [started], and we’re hoping to also include food pantries and other organizations,” said Sparrow.
She also hopes that more members of the Bowdoin community, including faculty and staff, will get involved, even if they don’t have as much artistic experience. Sparrow herself had never taken an art class before last semester.
“Neither [Tabachnik] nor I are art majors… We want people to know that you don’t have to be an artist to be part of the club,” Sparrow said. “You can write a poem [instead] on the card.”
Ambrosio says she appreciates the club’s flexibility with respect to her busy schedule, allowing her to work individually while building community with others. For Hart, the Collective has helped her set time aside to make art after a heavy year of learning new technology and how to teach online.
Ultimately, Sparrow says she hopes the Collective can help connect participants during a time of social distancing, remote learning and podding.
“It’s a way to reach out and give someone something that shows you are thinking about them,” she said.
Dalia Tabachnik ’21 is a staff member at the Orient.