Cranes for change


U of R student’s art project lets viewers donate cash, receive paper cranes

John Cameron

When University of Regina education student Whitney Blaisdell had to do a sculpture project for visual arts professor Barbara Menaley earlier this semester, she took inspiration from Félix Gonzáles-Torres, the Cuban-American sculptor whose latter pieces – like a pile of packaged candy titled “Untitled (Public Opinion)” – invited viewers to take parts of the artwork home with them. Blaisdell also took inspiration from the story of Sadako, a Japanese girl who was two years old when the atom bomb dropped on her hometown of Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945.

According to Japanese legend, anyone who makes a thousand paper cranes will be granted a wish. So after developing leukemia at the age of 10, Sadako spent the rest of her days in a nursing home, making origami paper cranes. When she started the assignment, Blaisdell got the paper and set aside the time, and started making her own cranes.

After Blaisdell’s project was displayed for one day in the in the fine arts faculty, she suddenly found herself with a thousand paper cranes and nothing to do with them. When disaster struck Japan on March 11, however, she – and her cranes – suddenly had a purpose.

“[I figured] there’s not much I could do, I don’t have enough money to send over to actually make a difference,” Blaisdell remembered. “So I just decided to, and it was also with my manager [at Chapters] who kind of gave me the idea of giving away the cranes for donations.”

So Blaisdell began making more origami cranes, first replacing the white cranes which had been damaged since finishing the class assignment, then selecting more decorative paper and making a new set of cranes specifically for her new project. And as of 6 a.m. on Wednesday, March 30, the old and new cranes are hanging from strings in Atlantis Coffee on Victoria Avenue, for customers and passersby to take home. All she’s asking in return is a minimum donation of $2 to $5, all of which will go to relief efforts for Japan.

Blaisdell explained that she’s displaying the cranes at Atlantis because it has more potential for foot traffic and people who don’t know about her project to make a donation. “I just figured Atlantis is downtown. It’s really accessible, and then not only would people hopefully go to see the cranes or to make a donation, but they’ll also just get a lot of natural traffic. And maybe people will just see it and want to participate a little bit.”

Ease of access to the display was important for her. Being a student, Blaisdell understands how hard it is for people on tight budgets to help out in moments of international crisis such the current hardships in Japan. That’s why she chose a venue that ordinary people frequent, one that is already a part of many urban Reginans’ lives – especially students.

“My parents and some people that I’ve spoken to are like, ‘Don’t put it at Atlantis, you should put it at-’ and then started naming these places that aren’t accessible to the public or students … I know a lot of students don’t have, like, $150 to send away to feel good about. But this way, even if you make a $2 donation – if everybody only made a $2 donation and I actually managed to give away all thousand, that’s $2,000 that you get to feel a part of. And I think that, like, that just goes to show that even the smallest donation can make a big difference.”

In the most popular version of Sadako’s story – Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, the 1977 retelling by Saskatchewan-born author Eleanor Coerr – the 12 year-old  only made it to 644 cranes. Her friends and classmates finished the rest. Then they raised the funds to build a statue of Sadako holding a golden origami crane in Hiroshima Peace Park.

And every donation – no matter how small – helped.

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