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Needham High students collaborate on art installation

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By Josh Perry
Hometown Weekly Staff

During the months of February and March, Needham High students will be taking part in a collaborative art installation with visiting artist Jodi Colella, as part of the school’s Own Your Peace initiative. 

Students will write messages on strips of fabric about how they “Own Their Peace” and they will knot the fabric onto a frame. The installation allows each student to have his or her voice be part of the project and to share his or her voice with the school.

Colella is a Somerville-based, mixed media fiber artist, who has exhibited nationally. She is working with Needham High art teacher Wendy Hodge on the project. Hodge reached out to Colella because of the “community-based art projects” that she has created in the past. 

Hodge said, “She has used art as the vehicle for bringing people together to share their unique voices in a powerful way.”

The senior studio class has been working on the framework for the installation and Hodge said that they will then reach out to the entire student body to participate in creating messages. 

This is Hodge’s third year as a teacher in Needham and she was inspired to create a project that would embody the message of Own Your Peace and the students that have inspired her over the years by sharing stories of challenges in their lives, particularly at the Speak Out assembly each March.

“During these years my own son was experiencing many challenges of his own,” Hodge explained. “Many of their stories mirrored his own, moving me to tears.”

“It motivated me to think about how a collaborative and interactive art piece could be used to heal, support, and unite, allowing for more students to let their voices be heard.”

Hodge and Colella met several times to discuss a potential project. Colella has been working with the students, who are learning how to develop a concept and follow through with a public art installation including issues of how to build the frame and working with school officials on the best place to hang the completed project. 

“My main purpose is to facilitate expression, help them organize their thoughts and ideas and guide them in the realization of the final piece,” said Colella, who has worked with students at Wheaton College and Governors Institutes of the Arts in Vermont on other projects.

“It is a democratic process with a room full of creatives, which is ALWAYS (sic) a surprising, delightful, and inspiring experience.”

Hodge added that the collaboration has been beneficial to the students as they have had to develop skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and cooperation. 

Colella said, “I take inspiration from the spirited ideas, discussions, and decisions that happen collaboratively in the classroom. I’m constantly learning from the students and their novel points of view.”

She noted that the students have also shown “courage” in their willingness to create an installation that will be public and widely viewed by the entire school. 

Own Your Peace has been a powerful initiative for Needham High our the past eight years and Hodge appreciates the messages and ideas that it has spawned for the students. 

“They understand and embrace the importance of emotional wellness, taking care of themselves and others,” said Hodge. “As a staff…we see how their personal struggles can affect performance in the classroom and sense of self-worth.”

“The pieces will speak visually and metaphorically about acceptance, diversity, individuality… how each person is an integral and important part of the whole.”

Josh Perry is an Editor at Hometown Weekly. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.

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