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Reflections from lead artist susan ribnick

Susan Ribnick

I remember exactly where I was on October 27, 2018, when I saw Headline News on CNN about a shooting in a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Eleven people died after going to their house of worship. You don’t have to be Jewish, or a resident of Pittsburgh, or even a member of the Tree of Life Synagogue to be outraged by news like that.

In what was a visceral reaction to an event far away, I felt an intense need to do something or say something, as tacitly listening to this “news cycle” and doing nothing felt somehow complicit. What happened there could happen anywhere to anyone in any house of worship, but this one hit close to home.

Some background. I am co-president of The Austin Mosaic Guild (AMG) and I also own a small company, Vintage Mosaic which specializes in Italian glass mosaic, based in Austin, Texas. AMG was formed over a decade ago with a few like-minded artists and has grown to over seventy members in and around Austin. I believe in the power of collective artistic endeavors, and I have initiated and organized a number of them, big and small, over the years.

I called a board meeting the day after the shooting to express my outrage and stop ruminating about a tragic event directed toward Jewish people. What ensued was a long and intense discussion about how we might respond and send a message that a shooting, any shooting, be it a school, a church, a mosque, or a synagogue is a reprehensible action that has consequences. This is how the Tree of Life Project began on an overcast afternoon in Austin, Texas.

What started off with half a dozen local artists grew exponentially into a larger undertaking. It started with ten, then twelve and then I decided that eighteen, the Hebrew number that corresponds with ‘life’ was the right number of artists. Rabbi Neil Blumofe of Congregation Agudas Achim in Austin met with us when we had little to show but he felt it was an important project, one that needed a podium and a wall. He connected us with the Tree of Life Synagogue, which was key. After all, we knew no one there, and had no idea if they wanted art from a largely unknown group of artists, now from all over the United States. Enter Dave Kalla, long-time congregant and now ambassador of the Pittsburgh synagogue. Dave attended the first exhibition of The Tree of Life Project, From Darkness to Light in Austin in May of 2019. Three public exhibitions and almost four years later, the international project has doubled in size to include forty exemplary pieces created by artists from all over the United States and five countries. And it continues to expand with the invitation of more artists who feel compelled to respond to the issues of antisemitism and violence.

With the recent headlines out of Colleyville, Texas fresh in our minds, this project which addresses antisemitism in particular, seems as relevant today as it did when it was begun on that afternoon in Austin in 2018. We hope that our collective artwork will call attention to such problems. Participating artist Rachel Davies of Dunblane, Scotland, where there had been a shooting at an elementary school, states our collective hope eloquently:

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Exhibition Schedule

SAMA Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art

Loretta, PA (August - December 2024)

Stockton University

Galloway, NJ (January- May 2024)

Levine JCC

Charlotte, NC (January- March 2024)

Violins of Hope

Pittsburgh, PA (October-November 2023)

Violins of Hope at Rodef Shalom

Pittsburgh, PA (October-December 2023)

Eradicate Hate Global Summit

Pittsburgh ,PA (September 2023)

Gaelen Art Gallery-JCC Metrowest

MetroWest, NJ (February - May 2023)

Jewish Federation of Flint, Michigan

Flint, MI (January-March 2023)

Kaufman Interfaith Institute at Grand Valley State University

Grand Rapids, MI (November-February 2023)

Michigan State University

East Lansing, MI (November - January 2023)

The Art Center of Battle Creek Michigan

Battle Creek, MI (September - October 2022)

Seton Hill University

Greensburg, PA (July - September 2022)

Skirball Museum

Cincinnati, OH (February, 2020)

Austin Theological Seminary

Austin, TX (February, 2020)

The J Gallery Exhibit

Austin, TX (September 18, 2019)

Agudas Achim

 Austin, TX (May, 2019)