Arts and Culture

Butterfly Trail connects seven Holocaust remembrance projects in Tucson

Strings of paired butterflies welcome visitors to the University of Arizona Hillel Foundation. (Photograph by Sara Harelson)

Zikaron V’Tikvah.  Remembrance and hope. These are the words that best reflect the meaning of the The Butterfly Project.

The Butterfly Project aims to remember the 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust and the hope that through education, nothing this hateful will ever occur again.

The Butterfly Project began at the San Diego Jewish Academy when artist in residence Cheryl Rattner Price and educator Jan Landau sought a way to engage students and bring to life the memory of the children.  Individuals and groups who participate in the project, both nationally and internationally, fashion ceramic butterflies, each complete with the name of a child whose life was stolen.

Amy Gould made it her mission to introduce this project to Tucson.  She and her husband decided to bring the project here after being introduced to it in Charlotte, North Carolina.  “I found the project there very touching and Wayne and I saw it wasn’t present here,” says Gould.  “I thought that, based on what has gone on even still in the world today, that bringing this here would help remind the people in this city of the importance of standing up and speaking out.”  Since it was first introduced to the city, the Butterfly Trail, created to connect all The Butterfly Project locations in Tucson, has been heavily trafficked by the community.

The first Tucson installment of The Butterfly Project was created at the University of Arizona Hillel Foundation.  Now the UA Hillel is home to a meaningful array of ceramic butterflies that welcome visitors.  Executive Director Michelle Blumenberg worked closely with Gould to start the project.  “Honestly, it all started with Michelle saying yes,” says Gould.

“Amy came in at the perfect time,” says Blumenberg. “We had just stopped doing the art project we had always done with the annual Holocaust vigil and needed a new one so when she came in, it was really yes and?”  In April 2015, the project was installed, and UA Hillel Foundation students and staff have continued to create more butterflies to keep and to share with other Tucson installations.  Tucson Holocaust survivors were some of the first to paint their own ceramic butterflies in memory of their siblings and friends for this particular installation. While there are common aspects to all of the installations around Tucson, like the maps pointing patrons on the path to all seven locations, Hillel’s eye-catching installation has the butterflies back-to-back, connected with a bead displaying words of hope. “They’re paired like that so no child is alone,” says Blumenberg. “It’s so important to have this installation outside. Students, faculty and visitors can see it all the time and the building doesn’t have to open for people to admire it.”

Rabbi Stephanie Aaron of Congregation Chaverim worked closely with Gould on the vision of this project. She also dedicated most of the installations.  “The project has two folds to it,” says Aaron. “One is about being a ‘rememberer’ and pledging to tell the story of survivors and being steadfast in my truth of that. Two is saying I will live my life to the best of my ability as an unprejudiced person and stop prejudice in others and myself. Going to the butterfly installments is showing the willingness to say that this is what matters in my life.”

The Tucson Botanical Gardens is home to one of the most public installations in Tucson. Michelle Conklin, the executive director of the gardens, loves housing it there. “When Amy and Wayne first shared with me the vision and messaging of The Butterfly Project, I was all in,” says Conklin. “The Tucson Botanical Gardens has been lovingly referred to as ‘The People’s Garden’ — a place that welcomes people of all abilities, interest, ages, and beliefs.  We felt it only natural that our Garden become part of the effort to bring this project to our city.” When walking through the TBG Pollination Garden, along with learning about the plants and animals that inhabit the gardens, visitors can read the words of Anne Frank. “It reminds us all just how precious life is, and the need to protect the world that we care about,” says Conklin.

The Butterfly Project, which also has locations at the Tucson Jewish Community Center, the Children’s Museum, Congregation Chaverim, Tucson Medical Center, and the Holocaust History Museum, is open to everyone.  The choice of seven locations is with purpose. “We chose seven because of the many meanings that seven comprise. Seven oceans, seven seas, it is seeing and thinking and seven is always trying to understand things,” says Gould.

Since the butterflies are not on display solely at Jewish locations, it makes the project a way to promote universal values of tolerance and hope for a more peaceful future. “We’re so proud,” says Gould. “Everyone that’s involved is so proud. We encourage everyone and anyone to go see one or more locations.”