The Empathy Project by Paul Rucker

P1010042 Paul Rucker, MICA Artist in Residence, stood in front of a computer in the MICA Studio Center with a MICA student in the background giving a massage. Surrounding Rucker, was the work of various artists of all ages and demographics, that have tacked, nailed, constructed or splattered their work within the space of the studio center as part of Rucker’s project, The Empathy Project, curated by MICA professor and artist, Marcus Civin. Rucker’s idea was to create an environment that would allow anyone to share their work – building on our understanding and appreciation of each other’s stories, ideas, circumstances and of course, art.

“How do we get out of our own experiences and understand where others are coming from?” Rucker asked me on the phone last week. That question led to The Empathy Project.

What is the motivation for connecting with someone, for having empathy? For Rucker it’s a way to solve social justice issues – like the prison industrial complex or slavery, which are a focus of his art. “We can solve these issues if we begin to understand each other’s circumstances,” said Rucker. “It allows one to examine their own advantages and privileges.”

“I did a smaller scale version of The Empathy Project in Seattle based on people submitting photos and writings,” said Rucker. “I never had intended to make it a full scale gallery show but I’m very happy with how it turned out.”

Mike, a senior graphic design major, stands in front of his Listen/Speak project – an interactive that helps participants self-identify whether or not they are empathetic listeners. Each dot, colored blue, green or red, encourages the participant to reflect on whether he/she listens always, occasionally or neverP1000995 The Empathy Project features multimedia components, including a video that an artist uploaded to this computer, which is available for anyone to upload their work. Notice the charcoal drawings surrounding it, which were done by local children in the community. P1000987 The photo below, which presents only a very small section of the project, is a testament to the diversity of the art pieces represented in the exhibit. The children’s charcoal drawings are juxtaposed with a vibrant, contemporary painting. P1000989 Throughout the exhibit, which takes up two floors of the MICA Studio Center, action words like “collaborate” help promote the themes. P1010001

Included in the exhibit was a meditation room which allowed those experiencing the project to spend time reflecting and decompressing. “When you really empathize with someone – when you take on their suffering, it can be exhausting,” said Rucker. “This was a place to reflect on those experiences, to relax.”


On Wednesday, March 12th, Rucker hosted an open mic in the basement of the studio center for anyone who felt compelled to share their art. He opened the event with cello improvisation accompanied by the MICA student, Qianfei Wang on the Chinese, harp-like instrument, the zheng. Other performers included a soulful, a cappella Rihanna song and a duo, who performed jazzy folk tunes on guitar and ukulele.

The Empathy Project exhibit ended on March 14th but Rucker plans on creating a database of the work that has been shared. We sat down with Rucker for an afternoon a few months ago to chat about his work as a MICA Artist in Residence, read it here.


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