What are your dreams?

William Chambers brings the Spaceship of Dreams to Brattleboro

BRATTLEBORO — What dreams do you have to make your life or the world a better place?     

The artist William Chambers has constructed the Spaceship of Dreams at the Brattleboro Museum & Art Center as a place where people can enter what he describes as "this fantastical space where you are being asked to dream with your fellow humans."

Anyone who wants to can draw or write a personal vision, which will be sent up when the spaceship is launched on Oct. 8.

Chambers describes himself as a socially engaged artist. With each art installation he creates, he takes on a persona. For the Spaceship of Dreams, he has taken on the role of space program director.

"Even though there is humor and fantasy in my artwork," he said, "the heart of it is deadly serious. I am convinced that art is a tremendously powerful tool that is often marginalized and seen as irrelevant in terms of the larger society.

     "I make interactional and relational works," he continued, "because I am interested in using the power of objects to create a container for a shared conversation about what matters most to us. It is serious business trying to break down social barriers so we can understand each other better."

As part of his effort to include all voices, Chambers spent time at the Groundworks Collaborative Brattleboro Area Drop-in Center on South Main Street and at the Brattleboro Transportation Center on Flat Street.

"Some folks wanted to steer clear of this guy in a costume (me), and others were willing and eager to talk with me," Chambers said. "These are people who are having real trouble meeting their basic needs and who may feel they do not matter. I thought it was important that their dreams be part of the installation, but I also wanted to be careful not to overstep. Many of their dreams were about food, and shelter, and safety."

His first spaceship exhibit was installed in York, Penn., in 2015. At that time, Chambers said, the city was not only reeling from the collapse of industry, but also experiencing racial strife. The York project attracted 1,500 visitors and collected more than 300 dreams. It is now on a national tour.

With this second iteration in a new location, Chambers has found that people have similar dreams, no matter where they are.

"That is what is amazing about this project," he said. "What we all seem to want are some pretty basic things, so I could generalize and talk about all the people who wrote dreams about family, caring for the earth, social justice, and combating racism. These are the meat of what we are struggling with as a country. But this piece also has room for weird or quirkier dreams. I hope folks will come look at the dreams themselves and watch them grow over the next three months."

Chambers collaborated with the Boys & Girls Club of Brattleboro in a project to make model mini-rockets to place in downtown businesses. These rockets will serve as additional collection points for the community's dreams and will help spread the word about the spaceship's mission.

Although he now lives in central Massachusetts, Chambers taught at The Grammar School in Putney from 2004 to 2013.

"What I do now is not so different at its heart from teaching," he said. "Teaching is often tied to an artist's practice; the inspiration and the liveliness of continually questioning what we are doing and how to reach more deeply enriches both."

Linda Whelihan, museum educator at the BMAC, met Chambers when both were members of an art teachers professional development group.

"It's nice to have our home-town boy back again," she said. "We're intrigued and excited to see how his practice has changed and grown."

Whelihan, who worked on the mini-rockets project with the campers at the Brattleboro Boys & Girls Club, said two campers were on each rocket design team, and each team designed their mini-spaceship according to the nature of the business that is hosting it. These spaceships can be found at Beadniks, Boys & Girls Club, Brattleboro Co-op, Brattleboro Senior Center, Brooks Memorial Library, Brown & Roberts Ace Hardware, Burrows Specialized Sports, Everyone's Books, and Strolling of the Heifers.

"I went around yesterday and already have gathered over 30 dreams to be added to the binder in William's installation," Whelihan said.

Chambers seeks to explore complex issues in his installations.

"Dreaming strikes at the heart of our lives and is tangled up in issues of race, privilege, class, age, sexuality, and gender," Chambers said. "I can't think of anything more complex."

The Spaceship of Dreams exhibit opened on June 23, and runs until Oct. 8. The BMAC galleries are open every day except Tuesdays, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Jan. 1, July 4, Thanksgiving Day, and Dec. 25). On the first Friday of each month, the galleries stay open until 8:30 p.m., with free admission after 5:30 p.m. The museum is located in the former Union Station at the foot of Main Street; GPS address is 10 Vernon St. Parking is available in front of the museum and next door at the Marlboro College Graduate Center.

Nancy A. Olson, a frequent contributor to the Reformer, can be reached at olsonnan47@gmail.com.


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