An exhibition of photographic banners, “Gratitude: a celebration of our common humanity” was displayed in Milwaukee City Hall from November 19 until after the Thanksgiving holiday, a collaborative project of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee’s Committee for Interfaith Understanding and the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design MIAD).

Fifteen large photographic banners were displayed in the rotunda space, each image taken by a student at the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design. The project was designed to highlight the city’s diverse faith community, with each picture representing the theme of spiritual “gratitude.”

As part of the learning experience, MIAD students visited places of worship and meditation in the Milwaukee area and created photographic observations of their experiences. In the process, they also reflected on their own personal spirituality. The resulting images showcase the incredible assortment of faith traditions in the city, while also acknowledging the shared threads that connect the citizens.

“The art showcases the incredible diversity of faith traditions in our city, and acknowledges the vital threads that connect us as human beings,” said Tom Heinen, Executive Director of the Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee. “This is an important display for the historic times in which we live.”

People of all faiths and philosophies were invited to the special interfaith program. The exhibit’s opening reception was attended by almost one hundred residents from the area, with a special introduction from Mayor Tom Barrett.

“I think we all recognize that diversity is one of the opportunities and one of the challenges we face as a community. And one of the things that we should understand is that every single person who lives in the City of Milwaukee is a minority. What do I mean by that? It’s just a simple math statement. If you look at the racial groups that comprise our city, none of them constitute over 50% of our population. And so none of us can speak as the majority,” said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. “I have not done an analysis on religion, but if you broke down the different denominations of Christianity into a classification as religion, I would guess the same thing is true. There is not one religion that comprises a majority in this city.”

Over 400 images were collected from students, and 15 were selected for the exhibit. The winning photos were taken by Alexandra Upadhyaya, Jocelyn Escobar, Maggie Hoffman, Abigail Mercaldo, Mackenzie Nourse, Paris Lewis, Alex Evans, Seth Vervaet, Kati Treu, Cyan Townley, Noah Sotolongo, Paris Lewis, and Cat Simpson.

“Sometimes to empower someone means asking them to step outside of their comfort zones. Or to work in new ways, using tools that they may be unfamiliar with. Both of those things happened this semester,” said Leslie Fedorchuk, Professor and Director of Academic Service Learning for MIAD. “I never had any doubts that this group of young artists and designers would rise to the challenges that this project asked for. It has been an honor to work with them.”

The proceedings also included the calls to prayer from various faiths, with a litany of gratitude and time for community outreach with those in attendance. Participants contributing the Call to Prayer for their faiths included Jim Salinsky, Rev. Reirin Gumbel, Rev. Marilyn Miller, Ubaid Grays, Rev. Tonen O’Connor, and Barbara Tracey.

The Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee holds programs throughout the year to focus on the economic, social, and moral health of the region’s population.

These audio segments were recorded live during the Gratitude exhibit event, which include remarks by speakers and the calls to prayer from represented faiths.

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Wisconsin Muslim Journal