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The Dream Rocket Project

The Dream Rocket Project

By Janelle Cahoon, Quiltcentric

Since 2009, art professor Jennifer Marsh of Washburn University has been working to collect 5,000 to 8,000 works of fiber-based art from around the world; these artworks will be used to wrap a full-size Saturn V moon rocket replica in Huntsville, Alabama for a 60-day exhibition in 2015.

This is an enormous undertaking.  To help envision the immensity of the project, consider that the Saturn V rocket is 363 feet tall, about the height of a 36-story building, and 60 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.

Named the Dream Rocket Project, the project encourages contributors to consider their dreams and aspirations for the future under the theme “Dare to Dream” and then to create 2 ft. square fiber art panels to contribute to creating the wrap.

I had the opportunity to interview Professor Marsh about the Dream Rocket Project and her reason for choosing to use the rocket for this project was fascinating.  She said, “The Saturn V was a Heavy Lift Vehicle rocket NASA built to send people to the moon, which means that it was extremely powerful.  I’ve been told that nearly 500,000 individuals worked together on various parts to build this rocket.  The Saturn V was used in the Apollo program in the 1960s and 1970s and it’s still considered the most powerful rocket that has ever flown successfully, and the only rocket to carry humans out of Earth’s orbit.”

Fully fueled for liftoff, the Saturn V weighed 6.2 million pounds, the same as 400 elephants.  In terms of power, it generated 7.6 million pounds of thrust at launch, creating more power than 85 Hoover Dams.  A car that gets 30 miles per gallon could drive around the world 800 times with the amount of fuel the Saturn V used for a lunar landing mission.  It could launch about 130 tons of weight into Earth orbit, equal to 10 school buses.

“The Saturn V moon rocket is the ideal example of achieving a dream that was considered ‘impossible.’  By wrapping it with our dreams it is an inspiring visual reminder of achievement through collaboration and perseverance.  If we can work together to put man on the moon, we can achieve the future of our dreams,” Marsh said.

“A crucial element of both art and technology,” she continued, “is the importance that creativity plays in both disciplines for the benefit of society.  When I was teaching at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, I had an opportunity to learn about the Saturn V at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Huntsville.  The sheer magnitude of this rocket is something that I can’t really explain, but instead has to be experienced.  When the opportunity to present this idea to the administration at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center became apparent, I knew that I must gather the courage to take this leap of an opportunity.”

It was through the encouragement of Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History in New York and Director of the Hayden Planetarium, that the project incorporated dream symbolism.

Professor Marsh explained that in 2009, at the beginning of the project, she was trying to figure out how individuals creating panels for the wrap would have tangible ways in which they could focus their attention and connect, as well as find ownership in the project.  “I also wanted the content represented on their submissions to be relevant and meaningful to them as well as viewers,” she said.  “Neil deGrasse Tyson graciously met with me over lunch that year.  He encouraged me to incorporate the dream symbolism into the project because, he said, ‘The Saturn V is the ideal icon to represent a big dream.  This rocket was designed and built as a collaboration of nearly half-a-million people and allowed our human species to venture beyond our world and stand on another – surely one of the biggest dreams of all time.  Enabling the dreams of young people to touch this mighty rocket sends a powerful message.’ “

This massive project, requiring both creativity and teamwork, has so far received submissions from 17 countries and 46 states.  It has grown to more than 12,000 square feet in size and will ultimately require 32,000 square feet of art to create the wrap.  Sub-sets of the component panels that will go into the wrap have so far been displayed at more than 130 venues around the country.  These displays, in turn, fuel more interest in the project and inspire more people to make and contribute panels.

The Dream Rocket Project is the current project of the International Fiber Collaborative, which has also done the Gas Station Wrap in 2008 and the Tree Project in 2009.  Images of these projects can be seen here.  These were projects that have been widely discussed in quilting circles the last few years, and now quilters and other fiber artists have a chance to contribute to this enormous new project.

The Dream Rocket Project is being used to promote art education in many classrooms around the U.S., although Professor Marsh stresses that the project wasn’t originally based on promoting art education, but that it has instead evolved into an extremely positive outcome.

“Building bridges between the arts and these important subjects is a wonderful way to connect our most creative of students,” she said.  “Now that we know how we can promote art education in unison with the DRP we have become much more focused in our efforts.”  The team is now collecting lesson plans from participating schools and groups to create an electronic booklet of activities based on core curriculum standards with the intent to distribute it to participants.

In spite of the many panels made by children in their classrooms, Professor Marsh emphasizes the importance of the adult submissions and the need for more of them.  She has spoken at several dozen guild meetings over the last couple of years and says she has enjoyed collaborating with many talented fiber artists along the way.

She said,” The individual adult submissions have in every way become the cornerstone to the DRP.  Adult submissions are often extremely inspiring and visually engaging.  I am completely convinced that if it was not for adult submissions venues would not be so willing to display submissions.  When you visit a venue and see 100 submissions on display, the most powerful aspect in my opinion is the vast skill level and age range of submissions.  It makes the exhibits engaging and interesting.  This mix of skills, approaches, materials and techniques is the key to why venues continue signing up.  This in turn provides additional and new art opportunities for all of us at all age and skill levels.”

The Dream Rocket Project recently completed a successful Kickstarter funding campaign to raise more than $12,000 to allow the project to hire an engineering firm to draw up construction-ready plans for the wrap of the rocket.  These will be complicated.  The wrap will have to be displayed on a framework that mimics the shape and contours of the rocket but cannot touch the rocket itself.

Although the IFC Dream Rocket Team currently has permission to wrap the replica Saturn V rocket standing outside the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, LA, they are still trying to get permission to wrap the actual rocket, which is displayed inside in the Davidson Center.

If you’d like to contribute a 2’ x 2’ panel to go into the Dream Rocket wrap, check out the Materials and Techniques Cheat Sheet here.

Some of the potential “Dare to Dream” themes include Community, Conservation, Technology, Space, Peace and Freedom.  Artists express their vision in their 2-foot square artwork with a fabric backing material.  The techniques used to create the art are up to the artist and range from quilting, embroidery, painting, yarn, beads, buttons, photos printed on fabric and more.  No batting is needed.

When you’ve completed your panel, you’ll need to complete the online submission form and pay the $20 reservation fee (which covers the exhibition costs and part of the costs associated in the construction of the 32,000 sq. ft. wrap.) then print the ID Form, attach it to your panel and send it in.

“Reservation fees only make up a small part of our revenue,” Professor Marsh explained, “with the rest coming from grants, services provided, sponsorship and donations.”

When it’s received, your artwork will be photographed and added to the project’s Flickr album, sent out for exhibition in a preliminary venue such as a library, children’s museum or National Park site, and ultimately combined with the artwork and dreams of thousands of other participants to create the Saturn V’s wrap.

Here’s a photo of the partially-completed panel I’m working on now to contribute to this inspiring project!


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