NEW BRUNSWICK — For the second year in a row, the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University has united with two Middlesex County municipalities and several of their community organizations to use art displays to try and answer the question: How do we see through hate?

The project is called Windows of Understanding and can be seen now through Feb. 28, lining several streets in New Brunswick and Highland Park. Close to 40 artists and social justice organizations are involved this year, double last year's participation, and many of those artists are Mason Gross students.

Co-founder and Rutgers alumna Tracy O'Reggio Clark works with the New Brunswick Community Arts Council and the New Brunswick Cultural Center. She said the initial idea was intended as a response to the white supremacist riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017.

Cassandra Oliveras-Moreno, another co-founder who works as administrator for communications and collaboration at Mason Gross, expanded on that, saying Windows of Understanding is meant as a "creative response" to some of the imagery and headlines that flood our lives.

"How could we make a statement, a positive statement, of 'How do we see through hate?' in the view of all this that's going on — the social media and just the craziness of the discourse," O'Reggio Clark said.

The co-founders, also including Jennifer Sevilla at St. Peter's University Hospital in New Brunswick, felt some of the major social issues facing Americans today — immigrant rights, gun and domestic violence, homelessness, mass incarceration to name a few — were not being addressed with enough positivity for solutions to be effective.

So, inspired by civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and New Jersey native Paul Robeson, the group focused on programming that would unite people while being specific, strategic, thoughtful, and appropriate.

"We're creating a creative space for people to become aware (of) the positive work that is being done, and how they might become not only aware of that work but engaged in it," Oliveras-Moreno said.

These site-specific art installations, which Oliveras-Moreno called "creative disruptions," cover a wide range of formats: painting, photography, sculpture, even a digital application in one restaurant window. And the youth of New Brunswick and Highland Park have gotten involved; middle and high schoolers in both municipalities have championed LGBTQ rights as a main theme.

The women behind Windows of Understanding acknowledge that hate in modern society seems to keep growing unchecked, and so they are grateful for the community support that has allowed them to tackle that concept head-on. They are eager for even more local involvement, though, and desire to know what they can improve upon in years to come.

For more on this year's displays, visit windowsofunderstanding.org.

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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