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ARThrive finds inspiration from Yoko Ono to bring "Wish Trees" to central Michigan

Wish Trees sit on the second floor of the library on Nov. 28 in the Charles V. Park Library. The trees are a way for students to voice their goals in a tangible way by hanging a written tag on the tree.

For the past three weeks, “Wish Trees” have collected the wishes of passersby in various locations around central Michigan. Now, the trees have made it to their final stop at the Central Michigan University Charles V. Park Library as part of a community art collaboration assembled by ARThrive.

What appear to be white price tags hang from the branches of 12 potted hibiscus trees, surrounded by white Christmas lights.

A goal is written on a tag and hangs on the wish tree on Nov. 28 in Charles V. Park Library.

The idea behind the project is simple, with instructions hanging near the trees:  “Make a wish. Write it down on the marking tag. Tie your tag to a branch of the Wish Tree. Ask your friends/family to come and do the same. Keep wishing until the branches are covered with wishes.” 

“(ARThrive) is asking people to stop and reflect on their wishes, (writing them on white tags),” said Michelle Bigard, Central Michigan University counselor and ARThrive co-founder. “The power of the exercise is in including the people drawn to the tree to look at the different wishes—some are funny, some are very specific, like ‘I want a horse or I want a good GPA.’ Some are related to losses or something very personal.”

ARThrive developed in the summer of 2018 and its small team is currently composed of Bigard, 515 Art Gallery Owner Kim Kleinhardt, professor Annette Thornton and professor Al Wildey.

Although the trees have only been around for a few weeks, their branches have collected thousands of tags with wishes ranging from silly to sentimental; from “(I wish to) win the lottery” to “DRUG FREE.”

The trees were originally placed in Ponder Coffee Company’s Franklin St. location, the four CMU residence halls, the Student Activities Center, the University Art Gallery, the Charles V. Park Library, the CMU counseling center, the Ziibiwing Center, Northwoods Pet Care Center, 515 Art Gallery in Claire and an art gallery in Big Rapids.

Trees were collected the week of Nov. 25 and will remain on display in “united composition” until exams conclude. Bigard said the trees are meant to be a source of stress relief for students as they study for their exams.

“We wanted to bring this to students in the midst of a very stressful time,” Thornton said. “(Art) helps us heal, individually and collectively. We can talk, but this is a way of making something that represents how we feel and what we’re thinking.”

The concept of the Wish Tree was created by artist Yoko Ono in the 1980s. Ono’s interactive installations can still be found all over the world, from Washington, D.C. to Japan. She keeps the over 245 thousand wishes in "Imagine Peace Tower"— a vertical beam of light located in Vidney, Iceland, symbolizing her late husband John Lennon’s campaign for world peace.

“As a child in Japan, I used to go to a temple and write out a wish on a piece of thin paper and tie it around the branch of a tree,” said Ono in her website, “All My Works Are A Form Of Wishing,” to explain what inspired her to create the Wish Tree. “Trees in temple courtyards were always filled with people’s wish knots, which looked like white flowers blossoming from afar.”

The trees in CMU’s Charles V. Park Library will be on display until the end of the semester and eventually will be distributed and planted throughout the community. As for the wishes, Thornton said ARThrive plans to incorporate the tags into its next big project.   

“We are going to collect the tags and do some project to preserve and display them,” Thornton said. “We like the idea that there is movement to them.”

After the current art installation has concluded, ARThrive will collect the trees and wishes. Trees will be donated to different agencies, and wishes will become an art installation. 

In the future, Bigard said ARThrive hopes to do a Wish Tree project every fall.