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Unity: An interactive fibre art installation

by Debbie Sullivan September 07, 2016 1 Comment

Unity: An interactive fibre art installation

This past weekend I had the pleasure of witnessing (and participating in) a public art installation involving - you guessed it - a ton of yarn!

I was attending the Shelter Valley Folk Festival, a music festival held on a family farm outside of Grafton, overlooking Lake Ontario. I've been to Shelter Valley every Labour Day weekend for the past 13 years, and part of what keeps me going back is the incredibly strong sense of community among the organizers and festival-goers. UNITY is an interactive art installation which creates a physical representation of that community, documenting our similarities, differences, and ultimate interconnectedness.

Shelter Valley Folk Festival

The set-up for this installation is a central pole, surrounded by a ring of 32 outer poles, each of which is labeled with an identifying characteristic, ranging from "I'm a cat person" to "I'm a survivor" to "I identify as LGBTQ". Each participant is invited to choose a yarn to tie around the central pole, and then wind it around each outer pole that they identify with.

Unity Project participation

The resulting interwoven fabric becomes a physical manifestation of the community which creates it. UNITY is a project initiated by Nancy Belmont, who created the first project in June 2016 in Virginia, with the hope "to raise consciousness about the labels we give ourselves and others and explore how those labels both support and limit building interconnected, interesting communities".

Unity project label

For participants in the project, the experience can range from playful to very emotional, as they are invited to contemplate their own identity and place within community. It can also be an experience of self-reflection, as you ask yourself which poles you will wrap your own strand around. Interestingly, although there were many poles that I chose to wrap, the one where I immediately felt, "yes, that's me" is the one pictured above: "I work at more than one job."

Unity project outer pole

The end result of these personal choices of participants is being able to "read" in some ways the composition of the community by comparing the number of wraps on each pole. As I was starting my journey around the ring, a woman noted with concern that one pole had so many wraps that is was starting to bend slightly in towards the centre. She checked which pole it was and we realized it was labeled "I have hope".

Unity Project at Shelter Valley

As well as the significance of all that the intertwined threads represent, the web that was created became a beautiful and fascinating piece of fibre art, spanning 40 feet and incorporating yarn of all colours and textures.

Unity project central pole

Unity project - web

Unity - centre pole

This was an inspiring piece to watch evolve over the weekend, and I really appreciated having the chance to participate. If you are interested in creating a UNITY project in your own community you can find more information at




Debbie Sullivan
Debbie Sullivan


1 Response

Kelly W.
Kelly W.

September 08, 2016

What a beautiful project! So many layers of significance and a mesmerizing result.

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