The Union Week Embroidery Project: A Photo Essay

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“[Becoming an artist] is a total risk of everything, of you and who you think you are, who you think you’d like to be, where you think you’d like to go—everything, and this forever.”

-James Baldwin, “The Artist’s Struggle for Integrity,” 1962 

 

Last week was Union Week on our campus, one of 25 colleges in the City University of New York (CUNY) system, a large urban university system. Our union, the Professional Staff Congress (PFC), representing full-time and part-time faculty and staff at the 25 colleges, is negotiating for a new contract amid the many challenges faced by higher education. The Union Week Embroidery Project, an individual artistic project aiming to take a stand, is intended to highlight the needs of our campus with the understanding that all students deserve the right to a fully funded higher education, in clean and sustainable facilities. 

Some of the 25 campuses are housed in former office buildings surrounded by highrises, concrete, and glass. They are close to the subway and in some ways indistinguishable from the surrounding city. In contrast, the campus where I teach is almost bucolic, with many trees and open green lawns where students gather on warm days. Geographically, the campus remains part of the city, but is located close to the suburbs and two miles from the subway. 

Nevertheless, the physical plants at many of the campuses, including where I work, suffer from years of underfunding and subsequent neglect. Signs of disrepair are hiding in plain sight, with one instance late last year, of interruption to in-person classes. In spring semester 2023 and again this fall, returning to in-person teaching in the continued wake of the Coronavirus pandemic, I could not help but notice the worsening conditions on campus.

The Union Week Embroidery Project finds inspiration from James Baldwin’s writing on the risks and responsibilities of becoming an artist, which are akin to the risks and responsibilities of the work of higher education. As the union works to negotiate a new contract, together we draw attention to the need to bear witness to the consequences of the deteriorating conditions around us–there is too much at stake to ignore. 

In becoming aware of the consequences and intervening in the current situation, perhaps we can bring into being a hope that is so often absent these days, hope that our students and future generations of students can pursue a meaningful education, and, as a result, give back to a world that must continue to offer opportunities to flourish and grow.

 

Embroidered banner for Union Week:  NO CUTS PSC CUNYEmbroidered banner for Union Week: NO CUTS PSC CUNY

 

Danger Keep OutDanger Keep Out

 

No TrespassingNo Trespassing

 

Yellow Post with Rusted ChainYellow Post with Rusted Chain

 

Untended Air Conditioner with DandelionUntended Air Conditioner with Dandelion

 

 Timeworn Classroom BaseboardTimeworn Classroom Baseboard

 

Bulletin Board with Staples, Paper Scraps, and Graffiti. Graffiti Text: "Cliche➡ You go to my head, [you linger like a haunting refrain] ⬅ that’s good"Bulletin Board with Staples, Paper Scraps, and Graffiti. Graffiti Text: "Cliche➡ You go to my head, [you linger like a haunting refrain] ⬅ that’s good"

 

Portrait of the artist with glasses, black hoodie and black mask  against blue skies and green treesPortrait of the artist with glasses, black hoodie and black mask against blue skies and green trees

 

“I support the union because all of us must have opportunities to grow and flourish together in solidarity.” Sign by S. Bernstein black letters on rainbow-colored background“I support the union because all of us must have opportunities to grow and flourish together in solidarity.” Sign by S. Bernstein black letters on rainbow-colored background

 

Notes and Credits

The Union Week Embroidery Project was made for City University of New York's PSC CUNY (Professional Staff Congress) Union Week, which can be found on Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/psc_qc/   

The banner and sign are provided by PSC CUNY. The embroidery and other multimedia work is my own. A video for the Union Week Embroidery Project is available here: https://youtu.be/-vkWVmBTPEo 

About the Author
Susan Naomi Bernstein (she/they) writes, teaches, and quilts, in Queens, NY. She blogs for Bedford Bits, and her recent publications include “The Body Cannot Sustain an Insurrection” in the Journal of Multimodal Rhetorics and “After Basic Writing” in TETYC. Her book is Teaching Developmental Writing. Other publications include “Theory in Practice: Halloween Write-In,” with Ian James, William F. Martin, and Meghan Kelsey in Basic Writing eJournal 16.1, “An Unconventional Education: Letter to Basic Writing Practicum Students in Journal of Basic Writing 37.1, “Occupy Basic Writing: Pedagogy in the Wake of Austerity,” in Nancy Welch and Tony Scott’s collection Composition in the Age of Austerity. Susan also has published on Louisa May Alcott, and has exhibited her quilts in Phoenix, Arizona and Brooklyn, NY.