Artists Collaborate On Interfaith Project At Hartford Cultural Center

HARTFORD — — A giant plywood cube sits among the flowers and shrubs in front of the Charter Oak Cultural Center.

In a matter of days, a group of artists hopes to transform the box into a symbol of interfaith love and a catalyst for discussion.

The art installation, called “Sacred Ground,” is the brainchild of Donna Berman, executive director of the Charter Oak Cultural Center. She dreamed up the concept last summer after hearing about the controversy surrounding a proposed mosque near the former site of the World Trade Center in New York City.

“It was born out of my angst over what was going on at ground zero and the kind of hatred and bigotry being directed at the Muslim community,” Berman said.

The project originally was intended to educate people about Islam, she said, but later it became more about promoting the acceptance of different beliefs.

Berman invited artists from a variety of faiths to contribute. So far, four people have participated, each from a different religious background: Christianity, Judaism, Catholicism and Islam.

The artwork is designed to spark conversation and highlight what the different religions have in common — a commitment to kindness and compassion — Berman said.

“Even if people don’t agree with each other, there’s intimacy in conversation,” she said. “This is about messy, complicated, complex, down-and-dirty conversation that brings people closer together.”

Michael Proscia of Marlborough heard about the project while enrolled in programs at the cultural center. Proscia, who graduated recently from Penn State University with a degree in architecture, helped create the design for the 8-foot-cube and built it.

“It’s a really good message we’re trying to get out there, that people of different faiths can work together and create something that is unified,” he said. “Hopefully it will raise tolerance and awareness.”

Two sides of the cube have been painted. On one, the sun peers out from behind a hillside. On the other, the moon and stars glisten above a field. The outside of the cube will feature landscapes, while the inside will include religious paintings and symbols.

One interior wall is punctuated by a series of holes. Proscia said that is where visitors will be able to insert written prayers, a feature he modeled after the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem.

Another artist, Jackie Allen-Doucot, brought along several children from the nonprofit Catholic Worker Movement program, which she runs in the city’s North End, to help paint the cube’s exterior.

“I like to think the next generation of kids could be more understanding and tolerant,” she said. “No one should be your enemy if you don’t know them.”

Salma Arastu, a Muslim artist living in Berkeley, Calif., heard about the project through an e-mail. Eager to participate, she donated two paintings, a mural and wooden cutouts.

“I get really disturbed by the things happening around us,” she said, referring to the proposed Quran burning in Florida and the mosque controversy at ground zero. “To bring people together — that’s my dream in doing my work.”

Her mural depicts different religious symbols, while one of her paintings features the words “peace” and “love” written in several languages, including English, Arabic and Hindi.

Arastu’s artwork will appear on the inside of the cube.

The artists are on pace to complete their work by Oct. 25, Berman said. The Charter Oak Cultural Center will host a public opening on Oct. 28.

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