"Two hands - one black and one white - one helping the other over the wall. Doesn't matter which is which."
Calvin Johnson
Frederick, MD
The Bridge Builders Outreach

One summer evening while the bridge was still in the planning stages, William and Teresa Cochran took a walk down to the mural site. Three young teens were hanging out under the bridge drinking beer, and when William approached them, two ran away. To the third, he introduced himself as the artist of the project and said he was looking for creative input from the public for the artwork. "What would you say if I asked you what object represents the spirit of community to you?" Without hesitation, Calvin Johnson answered, "Two hands - one black and one white - one helping the other over the wall. Doesn't matter which is which." While Cochran had asked the question of many friends and acquaintances, this was the first time he had asked it of a stranger. At that moment, the Bridge Builders Outreach became an effort to engage as many people as possible in a collective artwork.

Some members of the Bridge Builders guidance Team.

A Thorough Effort
Shared Vision agreed to sponsor a county wide Bridge Builders Outreach based on what quickly became known as "the question." Led by Teresa Cochran, a team of community leaders - the Guidance Team - met for nearly six months to develop a detailed plan. Their charge was to make sure as many as possible had the opportunity to suggest an idea. The Guidance Team designed a grid that divided the local area into seven districts and twenty broad population segments, such as commuters, schools and colleges, and the agricultural community. To the extent that it was possible, each segment was to be contacted in many different ways in each geographic district.

More than a hundred volunteers helped implement the Bridge Builders Outreach across Frederick County.
Reaching People
In the fall of 1994, a dozen Volunteer Team Leaders began recruiting volunteers and contacting organizations that could help ask question across the area. On February 1, 1995, the Outreach began in earnest with posters, brochures, collection boxes and response forms being distributed. Hundreds of letters were sent to churches and community organizations explaining the project and requesting their help. Speaking engagements to local civic groups were arranged. Outreach materials were incorporated into the curriculum of all the private and public schools in the county. The Outreach volunteer team included many kinds of people, from high school interns to business people, from children from the city's youth center and eagle scouts to retired people and shop owners. All helped distribute materials and collected responses.
Outreach submission by Sarah Marie Sines, Grade 5, Ballenger Creek Elementary School

By mid-February, a superb half-hour documentary called Bridge Builders began airing regularly on the local cable station - it was televised dozens of times over a three month period. PSA's were broadcast on local radio and TV stations; articles ran in local newspapers. Colorful chalk murals asking the question appeared on downtown sidewalks. Direct mail reached into every home in Frederick County with an explanation of the project and a response form. For six straight weeks, the large Hampton Inn electric sign asked the question of travelers and commuters on Route 270, the major artery into the community from Washington, D.C. As news of the project spread, the question was asked to a national audience twice - once on the David Brenner Show, a live coast-to-coast radio show, and once on fX TV's Breakfast Show.

Finding a Voice
Letters, postcards, and correspondence of all kinds with thousands of ideas, some with pictures, some with photographs, some with detailed explanations or stories, swamped the Shared Vision office. Strangers handed ideas to Cochran on the street; one he found under the windshield wiper of his truck. Workmen came to the mural site on their lunch break to give ideas. An engineer helping to finish the flood control project brought an antique milk bottle that was unearthed during the excavation. That was his object. At least one former opponent of the project hand delivered an idea along with a generous donation.

Pondering Connection
fx TV's coast-to-coast audience heard six Frederick County residents explain why their objects - included in the bridge - represent community.
As the question began to sink in across the county, many people spent long periods of time considering it. "I'm still thinking about it" was an exclamation heard again and again during the long months of the Outreach. One young woman was asked the question as she opened her menu in a local restaurant with her extended family. Halfway through the meal, she stopped in the middle of an unrelated conversation, turned to her questioner and said "That's a hard question!" An hour later, ending the meal, she again interrupted her conversation, turned to her questioner a final time, and said with triumph, "A long, long table."

As the bridge took shape, articles appeared in regional and then national media, bringing more and more people to the bridge. Their enthusiasm and helped to propel the project forward, and the impact of the bridge spread even further. This web site was created to open participation to anyone in the world. Ideas began to stream in from across the USA and from many other countries, including Mexico, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Bosnia, the Netherlands, Indonesia, New Zealand, England, France and others. Today the bridge contains ideas from all over the world.

Sparking the Imagination
The Outreach demonstrated that imagination is a common resource. The kind of imagination found within the artist is also found within the audience. Bridge Builders invited the audience to contribute actual content to the work, so the work might reflect a collective imagining, rather than an individual one. The purpose was to explore common realities that cannot be encompassed by a single artist bound by the limits of a solitary human perspective. "Imagination is the most powerful force available to humankind" says Cochran, "and everyone without exception has access to that force." Community Bridge took on a life of its own, becoming driven and sustained by people recognizing and expressing from multiple perspectives a universal value: human connection. If you would like to send the artist your answer to the question, click here.

For six weeks, the large Hampton Inn electric sign asked the question of travelers and commuters on Route 270 the main artery into the city.

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