‘Worker Artist’ show puts staff talents on display

Not work-related (beautiful nevertheless)

‘Worker Artist’ show puts staff talents on display

October 26, 2018

The sound of excited hobnobbing spills into the hallway outside the Science and Engineering Library, and curious students poke their heads in to see what the fuss is about. Colleagues from various departments and offices around the university greet one another in a new context: the opening of a Building Bridges art exhibition showcasing art created by UMass Worker Artists.  


Whether their jobs include serving food in dining halls, booking conference rooms for department meetings, or maintaining sensitive scientific equipment, tonight they transform into their roles as artists.  

Jacob Carter, project coordinator, explains that Building Bridges is a public art and engagement initiative that draws on the power of solidarity and creative expression to bring people together and create a bridge across difference. One of the initiative's facets is to "elevate the visibility of the many workers who keep UMass Amherst going, night and day." Sharing their artistic talents in this way "enriches the university community and allows them to engage in the creative enterprise of knowledge production here on campus," he notes.  

"Art has such great potential for bringing people together." — Karen Hakala 


"I had no idea you did this" was a common refrain among coworkers viewing their colleagues' artistic endeavors. Enobong (Anna) Branch, Associate Chancellor for Equity and Inclusion, thanked staff members for "sharing your work with us," emphasizing the role that events like these can have in forging and strengthening personal connections within the UMass community. 

CNS staff among the exhibitors included Karen Hakala, Faculty Assistant to S. Thai Thayumanavan in the chemistry department. "UMass is such a big place, it's nice to have that personal connection," she said. "That's what keeps us going. You can see other people's artwork and get excited and inspired and get to talk with them about it — it's pretty cool." 

In her role at UMass, Karen provides finance, reporting, purchasing, and travel support for the professor and his research group. Tonight, though, her colleagues are asking about the mixed media works shes exhibiting in the show. "I have been doing artwork off and on for my whole life," Karen shares, "but recently mixed media intrigues me because I am able to do more three-dimensional work and use more texture in my art." Her job offers inspiration for her artwork as well, she says, noting the creativity demonstrated by students and other researchers in chemistry who "come up with new ideas to test." 

Karen Hakala and her artwork

Starting with knitting, Cathy Russell followed her talent for fiber arts into weaving and received her Master Weaver Certificate from Hill Institute in Florence, MA in 2014. She says, "the last couple of years I've been experimenting with Tencel and silk, and hand-painting my own fibers. Someday I would love to teach weaving to kids or maybe senior citizens." 

Woven scarf by Cathy Russell

After years of assisting faculty and department heads in the Astronomy department, Connie Milne is not only celebrating her artwork tonight, but also her impending retirement just a few days away. Milne guides viewers through the details of her landscape quilt: "My husband's from California and I know how much he misses it, so I made this for his birthday a few years back. The lace represents foam on the ocean waves, and the different textures and patterns in the fabric help to convey depth." Precise stitching and subtle color patterning also distinguish her other quilted wall hanging in the show. 

Connie Milne and her artwork

Milling about near glass cases in the back is Lisa Korpiewski, who works as Senior Website and Publication designer at the Institute of Applied Life Sciences (IALS), which interfaces with many departments. She beams as several of the artists thank her for helping to organize the exhibition. "It's good for people who work with you to see your other identity as an artist," she says. After IALS Director Peter Reinhart sees some of Korpiewski's handmade greeting cards on display, he pulls her aside to talk about commissioning one for a family member.  

Artwork by Lisa Korpiewski

Karen Hakala takes in the scene as families cluster proudly around an artwork by a loved one. "I think art has such a great potential for bringing people together," she says. "It's affirming to be acknowledged for who we are, our personal interests and talents, and not be seen only as a function of the work we do. It makes me feel more connected." 

The Building Bridges initiative is funded by the Office of Equity and Inclusion, and this exhibition is co-organized by the UMass Amherst Libraries and the department of human resources' Labor/Management Workplace Education program.The UMass Worker Artists showcase is on view through December 13 in the Science and Engineering Library (Lederle lowrise A273).  

Read on: 
Building Bridges 

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