Compassion Project connects Lawrence and Appleton communities

Cassidy Wilson

The Appleton Compassion Project has brought together local Appleton schools, the Trout Museum of Art and Lawrence University in a community-wide, art-driven conversation about the meaning of compassion and how we might integrate it into our lives.

The project was inspired by the research of Dr. Richard Davidson, Vilas Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Davidson will speak about his research Tuesday, May 17 at a free event in the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. Chorus members from Appleton North High School and locally-raised musician Cory Chisel are slated to perform.

Starting last fall, over 10,000 Appleton students were asked to represent the word “compassion” on a six-by-six-inch tile. The collective results will be on display at the Trout Museum of Art from May 1 through June 30. They can also be viewed at, an interactive website which is updated constantly as the exhibition’s opening approaches.

Lawrence Associate Vice President of Major and Planned Giving Barbara Stack, who serves on the Board of Directors at the Trout Museum of Art, said, “It’s a remarkable display of art, thoughts, and ideas that I believe will astound our community when it’s officially unveiled very soon.”

On campus, more than 1,000 tiles decorated by local parochial school students and Lawrence students and faculty, including President Jill Beck, will be on display in the former Jason Downer Commons starting May 1.

According to sophomore Johnathan R. Vanko, the student director of the Lawrence exhibition, “The purpose of the Lawrence exhibit was to allow more students in the Appleton area to take part in the project. It will also allow Lawrence to be involved in the project and invite the community to campus.”

Lawrence’s studio art department is also involved in the project. The department’s collaborative tile is currently located on the upper floor of the Wriston Art Center. Anyone on campus is invited to add a layer of white paint to the tile while thinking silently about a specific person.

Associate Professor of Art and Frederick R. Layton Professor of Art Rob Neilson’s Intermediate and Advanced Sculpture classes are designing original manhole covers based on the compassion theme. The manhole covers will be cast by the Neenah Foundry and then permanently placed on campus and along College Ave.

The project has ultimately led to a closer connection between the Lawrence campus and the surrounding community. Neilson commented that it would have been possible to place all of the manhole covers on campus, but he decided not to because “I think the Lawrence community wants to engage more with the Appleton community.”

Neilson continued, “I’m very glad that Lawrence is working with the local community, as well as local industry. The Neenah Foundry has been very generous in working with us in this project.”

The ultimate goal of the Compassion Project is that after the exhibitions at the Jason Downer Gallery and the Trout Museum of Art have closed, the memories of this project will remain with many of its participants. Neilson spoke to this goal, commenting, “It seems to me that anytime we, as humans, spend some time thinking about what compassion is, it’s a good thing.”