Students gathered round a long table in an art room at Norris University Center. As they molded gray, cool clay in their hands, they laughed, chatted and even ate cookie
From the mood in the room, you’d think they were gathered for a party.
In a way they were. But the objects they were sculpting were contradictory to the festive environment.
There were bones in their hands, on the tables and on the trays.
Members of the Rotaract Club, an organization that stresses both community and international service, gathered last Thursday to sculpt as many clay bones as possible for a project called One Million Bones.
Schools and groups around the country are contributing bones that represent all the people who have been killed or displaced because of genocide in Somalia, Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Burma. This spring the bones will make their way to DC to be displayed on the National Mall.
Rotaract Co-Presidents Eileen Dominic and Adriana Stanovici chose to participate because the club has a strong tradition of international aid, including a spring break trip to a foreign country each year.
“I think that it’s harder to remember sometimes that people are struggling farther away,” Dominic said. “But everyone here is obviously doing something.”
About 20 students came to the meeting, where they talked about genocide and watched a documentary while crafting. Stanovici said the event was one of the first of the quarter open to non-members.
“I’m really excited about seeing new faces who don’t normally show up at Rotaract meetings. And doing something fun hands-on and at the same time learning why we’re doing this,” Stanovici said.
The hands-on aspect of the activity was extremely moving for some participants. Undecided freshman Emiliano Vera was there to help and said the sculpting put the horrors of genocide in perspective for him.
“If you’re holding a bone in your hand, you can imagine that this is someone’s bone,” Vera said. “And the fact that we’re making a million of them…that’s still an underestimation of all the people who have died.”
And for each of those one million bones, the Bezos Family Foundation will donate $1 to support victims of humanitarian crises in Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The project came to Northwestern’s Rotaract Club from Bronte Price, a sophomore studying art and photography at Columbia College. Price became involved after she took a class freshman year with Columbia’s faculty head of the project.
“I didn’t know anything about genocide besides the Holocaust and Cambodia,” Price said. “When I started getting involved and learning about all of these things, it was overwhelming.”
She threw herself into the project and was named the state representative for Illinois. One of Price’s favorite parts of the project is the art itself.
“For an artist it’s just the best feeling to actually be able to use art to change something,” Price said.
Price has a team of six who work closely with her, but there are an additional 15 to 20 who help make bones. Up until this fall, the group made 25,000, and they’ve made 7,000 more since the school year began.
In the spring Price will make the trip to Washington, D.C. to see the bones arranged, and she knows exactly how she’ll feel about her accomplishment.
“It’s going to be the most powerful thing I’ve ever done.”