Sharing intangible gifts with SHU students

Some students at Seton Hill University (SHU) have noticed a small addition to familiar hangouts on campus: small, decorated boxes with the label “Handle with care. Contains: Humanity.”

Known as The SHUbox Project, these boxes contain gifts that cannot be physically held. Lori Mackey and her students in AT 205 “Introduction to Visual Art Therapy” are spreading gifts are spreading these gifts around campus.

“The boxes need not be opened,” said Mackey, assistant professor and program director of art therapy at SHU. “Each SHUbox contains an intangible gift to consider.”

The boxes are labeled fragile so that students will handle each one with care. Photo courtesy by H.Carnahan/Setonian

The boxes are labeled fragile so that students will handle each one with care. Photo courtesy by H.Carnahan/Setonian

“The SHUbox Project is grounded in principles of Catholic Social Teaching,” said Mackey. “Students were asked to think about and reflect upon what our Seton Hill community needs at this time. Each student chose an intangible gift to offer the SHU community such as love, hope, compassion and patience.”

“Students then creatively embellished a priority mail box and wrote a brief letter to the potential recipient of the SHUbox to invite him or her to engage, respond, reflect and perhaps even pay it forward to another community member,” said Mackey. “The hope was to initiate a creative dialogue within the SHU community to reflect upon the fragility of these intangible gifts and awareness of what our community may need from the student perspective.”

The SHUbox Project was inspired by New Jersey artist Franck de Las Mercedes’ Priority Box Project, or Peace Boxes.

“He painted priority mail boxes and gifted them to people throughout the world,” said Mackey. “Each box was sent by mail to anyone who requested one. His goal was to initiate dialogue on peace; to challenge people to reconsider their ability to influence change and question the fragility, value and priority given to those concepts.”

The project, which began in 2006, will be ending next year after a decade of Peace Boxes. Over 16,000 of these boxes have been sent globally. The boxes are described as “a mixture of art and activism” and are “sent free to convey that something of such priority as peace should not have a price and that art can be both inclusive and accessible to all,” explains peaceboxes.com.

“This is not the end of the ‪‎Peace Boxes,” stated De Las Mercedes on his website. “As long as schools and teachers continue to make their own, it will continue grow.”

Completely embraced by social media and art teachers across the country, the movement has made its waves here at SHU.

“There are about 12 boxes circulating on campus. The boxes are not necessarily hidden, rather placed somewhere on campus to be found,” said Mackey. “Each box has a letter attached, inviting the finder/recipient to reflect on the contents of the box. The hope has been that the recipients or finders of the SHUboxes will engage in the process of responding to the intangible contents of the boxes.”

Savannah Burch, a student in Dr. Mackey’s “Intro to Visual Art Therapy” course, gave her take on these ideas.

“Members of the AT 205 ‘Intro to Visual Art Therapy’ course painted and decorated several priority mail boxes and created gifts that we thought our campus was in need of including love, compassion, courage, peace and various others,” said Burch. “We then placed the boxes throughout the community. The gifts of these boxes are deeply rooted within the Catholic Social Teachings. The CST values teach us that every human life needs to be valued, and we believe this project will help our community to understand that.”

Students who created the boxes leaves a written letter with insightful messages for the student who finds it. Photo courtesy of H.Carnahan/Setonian

Students who created the boxes leaves a written letter with insightful messages for the student who finds it. Photo courtesy of H.Carnahan/Setonian

“The box is empty, but the label reads ‘Handle with care. Contains: Humanity.’ Our professor, Dr. Mackey, thought this would be a great way to unify our campus,” said Burch. “There is nothing physically inside the boxes. However, each box contains an intangible gift that is written on the label. The boxes were created with specific goals and through manual labor. In a sense, each box contains a piece of the person who created it along with the intention he/she created it with.”

“Some of the boxes have been found by various students,” said Burch.

Burch said that the boxes are labeled with a “return address” in order for the students who find them to tell Mackey and her class that a box has been found. “This feedback enables us to understand how successful our placement of the boxes were and how to best execute this project,” said Burch

Not only are the boxes affecting the recipients, but also the students who created the boxes.

Student design each box creatively and differently. Photo courtesy by H.Carnahan/Setonian

Student design each box creatively and differently. Photo courtesy by H.Carnahan/Setonian

“This project taught me a lot about the joy that comes from giving something that you spent a lot of time on into the hands of another,” said Burch. “I have no idea whether my box will be cared for or appreciated, but that is part of the beauty of the project.

“The Catholic Social Teachings teach us that we have to love others, regardless of whether or not our beliefs and values correlate, because they are human,” said Burch. “I give my offering to the community because it needs it, even though I know the love that I created it with may not be reciprocated.”

The “Introduction to Visual Art Therapy” class is in the process of decorating more boxes to place around the campus. However, the students don’t want the project to end with the semester.

“We are thinking about creating some sort of club to continue this project outside of our course,” explained Burch.

If you are interested in the SHUbox Project, or find a SHUbox, e-mail SHUboxproject@gmail.com.

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