Hugh Merrill
Professor of Art
Kansas City Art Institute
Kansas City, Missouri, USA
2926 Charlotte Street
Kansas City Missouri 64109 USA
Telephone: 816-931-9011


Public Art Project: “I Believe In?”

Project Statement:

“Look at all this junk!” she demanded as she put down his set of ceramic salt and peppershakers fashioned after the bust of Lenin. Looking around his cluttered room, she noticed every surface was covered with stacks of books supporting opposite arguments, newspapers lay scattered together across his bed, posters covered the walls voicing conflicting opinions. A torn poster of John Paul II raising his hand blessed a crowd was partly covered by a pro-choice broadside that was pasted up next to a Xerox of Hitler raising his arm before a multitude. 

She thoughtfully ran her finger through the light film of dust covering the plaster face of Adolphe Appai.

“Who is this?” she asked.

“Look, it’s like this, its not that I don’t believe in anything, in fact I believe in everything. My sense of what I believe in changes hourly with the news, with a kiss, a look or even a soccer score” he stuttered to a momentary stop. ” I don’t think about having a set of beliefs. That is a set of beliefs that I must believe in. Beliefs are no more than ideas we use and discard.”

“So if you do not believe in anything do you have faith in anything” she asked? He grinned “I believe in evolution and have faith in you.”

Problem: To create a community arts action in collaboration with students in Poznan Poland concerning the negative and positive attributes of belief in relation to personal and cultural history.

Definition: Belief, acceptance by the mind that something is true or real, often underpinned by an emotional or spiritual sense of certainty.

Interpretation: Belief is a system of values and perceptions that buoys us, lifts our spirits and sustains us during time of the greatest peril. Belief is also a series of uncritical concepts that ensnares us and blinds us to reality and faith. A belief is not a simple fact and may not be related to truth at all. A belief is more complicated and sinister than a mere fact. A belief resides in myth, emotion, memory and certainty. A belief bends facts to support the believer’s assumptions. Belief goes unrecognized, it is an uncritical lens through which the world is viewed and distorted. Beliefs are the values that make life worth living. Contradiction?

Installation: To focus and create a conversation concerning issues of belief and believing I will produce a printed piece (described below) to be installed in a public area at the conference. The piece is meant to start a conference wide conversation on belief and provide the participating students a tangible printed art work/idea to react to in developing their own ideas for a public arts action.


 1. This project concerns belief through image, contradiction, distribution and communication. The project culminates in a collaborative arts action implemented by students in Poznan and artist Hugh Merrill.

 2. Using e-mail the students and I will conceptualize a public arts action informed by the theme “belief”. Perhaps the action will use posters, stencils, stickers, banners, broadsides and other forms of graphic postering to ask questions about belief and power.

 3. I am requesting that participating students send photographs to me viva e-mail of faces of their grand parents, great grand parents or other images of people in Poland from 1900 to 1960. I will use the images as a transparent layer of information for the graphic installation I am producing for the conference.

 4. When I arrive in Poznan in late August the students and I will install the graphic installation and then consider how to proceed with implementing the collaborative arts action we have discussed and brainstormed over the past months.

Description of Virtual Pool Installation:

 1. I will install images of virtual pools of water printed on a 3M graphic adhesive surface to be adhered to a floor in the Zamek Center for Culture in Poznan. Below the surface of the virtual pool of water are faces form history and the families of the participating student’s.

 2. 100 wooden Victory mousetraps are placed in a circle around the pools.

 3. 100 narrow sheets of paper with the text I believe in________?_____ are printed in Russian, Polish, English, French and German. A participant takes a trap from the edge of the virtual pool and fills in the blank on the sheet of paper stating their belief then “floats” the trap on the virtual pool.

HUGH MERRILL is a studio artist, community artist, educator, and writer. His artwork has been exhibited internationally and has been collected by major Museums such as the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Harvard Art Museums; the Cranbrook Museum; the Minneapolis Museum of Art, and the Nelson Atkins Museum among others. His articles on the redefinition of art, printmaking and education have been published internationally. His public and community commissions have been facilitated internationally as well. Merrill was invited to be a visiting artist at the Kemper Museum of Art in Kansas City for the Christian Boltanski exhibition 1996. Working collaboratively they facilitated the creation of a city-wide archiving project “Our City Ourselves.” As visiting artist Merrill wrote and facilitated the community arts project “Portrait of Self”, exhibited at the Kemper Museum in conjunction with the Boltanski exhibition. The “Portrait of Self” archiving workbook and process has been used in collaboration with diverse communities nationally and internationally over the past 8 years. Merrill has produced community/public works in Nairobi Kenya, Dania Beach Florida, Dublin Ireland, Sydney Australia, Havana Cuba and Colorado Spring Colorado among other locations. Merrill is the executive director of Chameleon Arts and Youth Development and a professor teaching in the print-media program at the Kansas City Art Institute.  For more information, see his web site at:

Images of a recent Community Project: "Belief Structures" installation at Dury University, 2005