By Mandy Lei
Graduating senior at CRMS
Making the odyssey from Shanghai to Cleveland and then again to the mountain town of Carbondale, my upbringing was one of a narrowing of exposure to the outside world. Yet it was the privilege of attending Colorado Rocky Mountain School (CRMS) that exposed me to other cultures. One opportunity at CRMS is the Senior Project tradition — a three-week intensive at the end of senior year where students can gain hands-on understanding in areas of personal interest.
Since freshman year, watching the graduating class present their projects — from marine biology to volunteering for health care support in rural Nepal — I was eager to explore the possibilities for my own Senior Project.
Time flew by and, three months before my graduation, sitting in the seminar room with my classmates, I was overwhelmed by the hundreds of internship positions. After some guidance from my advisor, A.O. Forbes, I realized that the three-week window was a perfect opportunity for me to rekindle my passion for art.
Attending weekend classes since the age of seven, my art has been centered around the rigidity of the orthodox pieces of Monet, Le Corbusier and Seurat. When selecting the next subject for an art piece, I sought to embrace discomfort by exploring unfamiliar mediums. I contacted Reina Katzenberger, a CRMS alum, at the Project Shop, a print-making art studio in Carbondale designed to support local artists through service learning.
Being an Asian American first-generation immigrant, the importance of social justice continues to grow in magnitude throughout my life. Growing up, I have struggled to balance the planes of liberty and equality as I seek justice. The reconciliation of one’s identity and how that fits into an unjust society is a lifelong journey. Studying the complexities of our societies helps me advance my capacity to care for others and better understand the duality between my actions and moral compass. When I listened to The Daily podcast on May 5, “A Post-Roe Map of America”, I wanted to fuse the artistic elements of my project with the goal of raising awareness for abortion rights.
As a young woman in America, abortion legislation directly impacts my body, my mental health and the trajectary of my life. Growing up in a conservative family, I am constantly forced to wrestle with difficult conversations. Still, The decision to publicly express my opinion on such a politicalized topic is terrifying. The purpose of this art piece is to advocate for my rights, create a bridge between worldviews and to find the courage to share my voice with my community.
Holding myself accountable to give the project an informed foundation, I dedicated time to researching abortion rights and interviewed Rebecca Binion, director of the Planned Parenthood in Glenwood Springs. I distilled the web of information into one precise message: access to abortion is about providing safe health care for women, which should be an issue between a woman and her doctor.
Finally, I went back to the drawing board, drifting into my imaginative space and away from the logos and overthinking. Through the act of losing myself in creativity, I was able to weave meaningful elements into the design (which you can read more about at TheProjectShop.org). And, most importantly, I was able to see my designs come to life on sweatshirts, totes, tees and posters. The experience of carefully printing each piece of cloth, and knowing that 100% of my dedication to the project will be donated to Planned Parenthood, is truly rewarding.
I am grateful for the immense support I’ve received from the CRMS community and the Roaring Fork Valley. My project was filled with moments of self-doubt and confusion, but the importance of social justice was highlighted by encouragement from my peers, mentors, families and strangers. I want to use this space to invite my fellow young artists and social justice advocates to pursue projects with passion that will make a difference in our community.
In the infinite uncertainty, I go back to Martin Luther King Jr.’s reminder: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”