What You Didn’t See When the Tibetan Nuns Visited Trinity

Take a Peek Behind-the-Scenes
Hartford, Conn., October 31, 2012 – On Sunday, October 21, six Tibetan nuns from the Keydong Thuk-che Choeling Nunnery in Kathmandu, Nepal, who had been visiting Trinity for a six-week stop, watched hundreds of hours of work float away in the Connecticut River, as more than 150 people looked on.   The group of nuns had meticulously constructed a sand mandala of peace and compassion, and following custom, they dismantled the finished work at Trinity, before disposing of it in the river, symbolizing the transitory nature of all things and the importance of not being attached to material things.

By all accounts, the visit was hugely successful.  The black box theater in the Austin Arts Center on Trinity’s campus became a home-away-from-home for the nuns, who spent close to 200 hours building the sand mandala. 

“The nuns visit provided a center of quiet, healing and hope—it transformed a black box theater into a sanctuary of art and spirit that drew thousands of people to experience its beauty and its sense of possibility,” Judy Dworin, Professor of theater and dance at Trinity and the co-organizer of the visit, said.  “It reminded us of the ephemeral nature of all things and of the intrinsic value of compassion in our lives. It transformed the Trinity campus for that one month and hopefully the very positive change that was felt by those who visited will live on in all of us for a long time to come.”
An estimated 5,000 people from Hartford and beyond took their shoes off and entered the room to observe the building of the mandala over the course of the month-long project.

“So many schools visited from all over the region—it was a delight to watch students of all ages respond---their sense of awe and respect,” Dworin said. “A world and a culture that would almost never be available to them, all of a sudden was, and they fully showed their curiosity and wonder.”

While the nuns spent much time in the theater making artistic statements with colored sand, they also spent significant time just off campus in their Allen Place apartment, which had been prepared for them by a small team from the Austin Arts Center, including  students Liam Doram ‘14 and Sabra Wilson ‘14, and co-organizer James Latzel (pictured right).

The apartment was outfitted with Tibetan art, warm lighting, and even a television.  Among the DVDs left for the nuns to enjoy was a documentary from a 2005 visit to Trinity’s campus.  The films ranged from documentary to Disney.  The group that prepared the apartment shopped for furnishings and wares; assembled, sorted, placed and installed all miscellaneous items (dishes, pots and pans, beds, etc); cleaned the space top to bottom; and turned what was an empty apartment into a home for the nuns. 

For photos, visit: http://bitly.com/T839c9

The same team also assembled the space that would become the backdrop for the main event of the semester.  Preparation of the black box theater included: painting the floor and display panels; building the mandala table; installing the decor and dressing; installing the artwork (thangkas, prayer wheels, etc.); and installing the lighting.  In addition, the team created a lounge space adjacent to the black box theater, in which the nuns could escape to privacy.

“Working with the two of them this summer has been a terrific experience,” Latzel said about Wilson and Doram.  “They are both very genuine and sincere people – really authentic – I feel very fortunate to have had them on board for the summer.”

The Tibetan nuns were appreciative of the warm welcome and the efforts involved to make it so.

“They loved the mandala room and their apartment —in general they were thrilled with the time and care that was taken in every way for their visit,” Dworin said.  “They felt very much at home.”