Artist Aquil Virani creates (remote) collaborative artwork at Paul Smiths College.

An eight-year tradition, kept alive.

For the eighth straight year, award-winning artist Aquil Virani worked with freshman students at Paul Smiths College to create a collaborative artwork. The main difference this year? A global pandemic that pushed us to work remotely and make it all happen using digital tools.

The artist met with small groups of students via Zoom to present creative challenges to them. Each student drew an image that represented them and “what they brought to the Paul Smiths community.” The doodles were then reproduced in a single, cohesive style; the mass of mountains and money, fishing rods and fungi, brains and badges, were integrated with a central focal point of the artwork: a bronze statue wearing a mask that says, “Listen first.”

The final artwork:

Why “Listen first”?

The central phrase in the artwork, “Listen first,” comes from a blog post Virani wrote for the Paul Smiths’ publication The Apollos several years ago – the basic premise: if we can’t ever fully understand what it’s like to live another person’s life, then our job is to “to listen first to these struggles and advocate accordingly.” This support and empathy for others is the most important part of community-building.