Common Read Program takes on 1,000 Peace Crane Project

If you have been around campus recently, you may have noticed some new sculptures hanging around Memorial Library, CSU, and the Earley Center for Performing Arts. These pieces correspond to this year’s Common Read book, When the Empire Was Divine by Julie Otsuka.

The sculptures are a part of the 1,000 Peace Crane Project, a collective undertaking by several departments at Minnesota State University, Mankato that was inspired by the book.

“Reading is a solitary endeavor,” stated Monika Antonelli, chairwoman of the Common Read planning committee, in a press release on the project. “In the spirit of inclusiveness, the 1,000 Peace Crane Project was created as a visible part of the Common Read Program.”

The Common Read Program is a campus-wide, community-building, public-reading initiative that centers on a book that is chosen for its themes of citizenship, cultural diversity, life transitions, and coming of age.

The original goal of the program was to create a common thread for freshman students to talk about, but it has become more of a community event since it began seven years ago.

“It’s not something that is only for freshman students anymore, but for everyone,” said Caroline McGowan, Memorial Library’s Outreach Graduate Assistant. “It’s more like a common book club.”

The inception behind the sculptures first came about last May when Liz Miller, an art professor here at MNSU, proposed the notion to tie the book to visual art. The idea quickly caught on.
“The cranes idea just grew organically from meeting with campus partners. One thing lead to another and it became this big project,” Antonelli said.

But, as Antonelli pointed out, this wasn’t a one-woman show.

The key was collaboration from many MNSU departments. In order to make the sculptures, which are made out of origami paper cranes, word needed to get out about the project, which is where Karen Anderson, Interim Assistant Director of Community Engagement in Student Activities, stepped up. She created posters and coordinated events such as book discussions and origami crane making parties.

Many of these events were led by McGowan. She was in charge of setting up and facilitating many of the events.

Students from Miller’s art installation classes were in charge of producing the sculptures. Both classes had to work together to not only create the designs, but also assemble the pieces.
Chandler Holland, EHS & Risk Management Director from Environmental Health and Safety, was instrumental in coordination and installation of the art pieces.

“There was a lot of collaboration with everyone,” Miller said. “There were so many people behind the scenes. We just tried to include all offices.”

Offices who didn’t have a direct role to play could show support and add to the cause by making origami paper cranes. Faculty, students and the community members were all encouraged to fold cranes as they read the book.

The idea behind the origami cranes came from a Japanese legend that states a wish will be granted to anyone who folds 1,000 peace cranes. Everyone who folded a crane for the project was encouraged to write their own wish on their crane.

As the project grew, cranes began to come in from all over the place. The wishes on them ranged from heartwarming hopes and dreams, to silly, amusing wishes.

“We had one that had cheese pizza written on it,” Miller said, laughing. “Someone was wishing for cheese pizza, I guess.”

The cranes varied in color, texture, size and sometimes even shape, as some were misshapen. The student assemblers were inclined to only use the “good-looking” ones, but Miller encouraged the use of all of them. She said it adds character to the piece and is part of what the sculpture represents.

According to McGowan, the flaws aren’t noticeable when you take in the whole sculpture, which is symbolic of how we are as people.

“It says something about us as humans, that we can all come together and make something beautiful,” McGowan said.

The sculptures were installed last week, just in time for homecoming, but there is still more to come for the Common Read Program. More book discussions are set to take place Oct. 12 and 19 in the Women’s Center on campus from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.

A photo gallery called What Remains: Photos of the Japanese American Concentration Camps is taking place on campus also, in the art gallery in the CSU lower level Oct. 3 to Oct. 28.

Dr. Gina Mumma Wenger, an award winning art professor at MNSU, is displaying thought provoking photos of Japanese American internment camp. The reception will be Oct. 18, 7 to 9 p.m., but the gallery will be open during normal hours for people to stop by.

Finally, in culmination of the Common Read Program, MNSU is welcoming Julie Otsuka, author of the Common Read book, When the Empire Was Divine, to campus to discuss her award-winning novel. This keynote event will take place Wednesday, Oct. 19, at 7 p.m. in the CSU Ballroom.

Otsuka will also be at the Emy Frentz Gallery in Mankato Thursday, Oct. 20 at 10 a.m. to answer questions, and then will be back on campus later that day for a craft talk at 3 p.m. and a book signing at 7:30 p.m. in the CSU.

All Common Read events are free and open to the public.

Alissa Thielges

Alissa is a sophomore majoring in mass media at MSU. When she doesn't have her nose stuck in a book, she enjoys eating pie and fangirling over various fictional characters. You can get in touch with her at her email

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