An Unexpected Visit

As the unnaturally hot Southern California summer came to a close and a still-hot fall began, this ephemeral and shape-shifting project that I set into motion a little under two years ago spread into the most unexpected place: the California State University Trustees meeting at the Chancellor’s office in Long Beach, California. Yes, each of the 25 trustees of the state university system and the 23 CSU presidents were introduced to Pollinating Kindness and invited to participate. How did this non-traditional and participatory art project attive at this very structured meeting of state leaders and politicians? It was, in the spirit of this project, the collaborative effort of a diversity of people.

Last spring, my generous and warm-hearted colleague, Diane Podolske, Director of the CSUSB Office of Community Engagement, saw the newspaper article about Pollinating Kindness from Louisiana about the ongoing efforts of my equally kind and gracious aunt, Linda Armantrout, to expand kindness in her community. Diane reached out to me about bringing the project to our campus, merging of Pollinating Kindness with the university’s 50th anniversary in the 50 Acts of Kindness campaign. A local news report about this made its way to Chancellor Norton, who was enthusiastic about the project.

One thing led to another and Diane and her colleagues spent weeks making dozens of trees for the CSU trustees meeting. She sent me an email explaining that the project would be introduced at the trustee’s meeting and asked for help making more butterflies so my students. I invited the inmates in our Community-based Art program at the prison Chino to fold some for us. Always eager to help in whatever way they can, the men made 150 butterflies. In the meantime, Diane and her office were busy sourcing, constructing, and painting the loveliest trees to hold the butterflies for the trustees.

I talked with our Community-based Art summer research team about what it meant to create a project that grows and evolves beyond you. We discussed the capacity these trustees had to make a difference and, also, the possibility that some might view the butterflies as mere decoration rather than as vehicles for kindness — the media of the project. As usual, I was impressed by their comments. I invited the students to help us. Long Beach is close to two-hour drive for them and this would be a voluntary trip for something that would last about 30 minutes. But three of them opted to come.

Soon, the students and I found ourselves at the Chancellor’s office with Diane and represenatatives from the school. We put the trees together and placed them on the tables during a break. I had a chance to thank trustee Norton for inviting us. Governor Brown wasn't there that day but I am hoping that he received the tree and our written explanation. I think he would like it. As the meeting got underway, the camera (it is all filmed for public record) and microphone were turned to CSUSB's President Morales. He spoke about the project and its potential at our university. I saw a few people reading the butterflies. The whole thing was lovely and surreal. Pollinating Kindness took the form of butterfly trees in this very official room — awaiting pollination as new acts of kindness.

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