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She looks toward the stars

By Olivia Babin

A couple years ago, George Ferrandi saw the stars for the first time. 

Growing up in Baltimore city, seeing stars was close to impossible. It wasn’t until George Ferrandi bought a small cabin in the New York Catskills that she saw the Milky Way. Inspired by its beauty, Ferrandi said she had to learn more. 

She bought a book about the stars and read about a phenomenon known as axial precession. Due to the rotation of the earth’s axis, the celestial North Pole will not always point toward the same star, she learned. The North Star is Polaris, but in 1,000 years it will be Gamma Cephei. 

Artist George Ferrandi adds the details on the sculpture, Ceph. Ceph is a large polar bear taking a selfie. (Photo by Daniel Caudill)

Jump!Star is a celebration of that transition. Twelve sculptures that make up the Jump!Star project, along with a parade of dancing, headdresses and original music, were set to debut at Symphony in the Flint Hills, which this year was themed Ad Astra — “to the stars.” It was a project three years in the making. 

Ferrandi’s background is in visual art, specifically sculpture. 

“Over the past decade, I have moved more into what is being commonly referred to as social practice or social sculpture or socially engaged art, which more directly involves the community in the making of the work as opposed to the artist working alone in their studios,” Ferrandi explained.

With Jump!Star, for example, Ferrandi’s audience has been involved from the beginning.

It’s a work inspired by the long history of the north star. It is referenced in literature around the world as something that never changes when, in reality, it changes every thousand years or so. 

“I [was] just blown away by the poetry of that because of course, it changes like everything in the universe [and] everything in our lives,” Ferrandi said.

Mike Miller works to stabilize the base for the sculpture. Miller built all the bases for the Jump!Star project. (Photo by Daniel Caudill)

Named after Annie Jump Cannon, famed “Harvard computer” who created the star classification system and who identified more stars than anyone else in history, Jump!Star combines elements of music, art and science to create rituals and celebrations for a new North Star.

Between now and the next time Polaris will be the north star, roughly 26,000 years, 12 different stars will be considered the North Star. Ferrandi has created massive paper sculptures depicting the personalities for each of the stars. Each sculpture is lit up and beautifully painted.

But the project is much larger than the sculptures. The day of the symphony, Ferrandi and her team had planned for a parade of the 12 sculptures, with choreography, rhythmic sounds, headdresses, ceremonial wear and more.

Jherek Bischoff wrote an original piece inspired by the Flint Hills and the Jump!Star project that the Kansas City Symphony was planning to play during the concert June 15 at Irma’s Pasture in Chase County. Indie-pop musician, Mirah, wrote three songs which were supposed to premiere at the event during the sculptural precession. Alan Calpe developed the choreography for the precession. Jee Young Sim wrote 12 sound signatures that were going to be part of a contradance that was going to take place at the symphony site. 

After three years of preparation, audiences at the 2019 Symphony in the Flint Hills were going to be the first to see the Jump!Star project. Due to a windstorm, the signature event was canceled, and Ferrandi could not debut her work. 

Harvester Arts

In 2014, Ferrandi was the first artist in residence at Harvester Arts, an artist residency program  in Wichita that partners with local artists. Ferrandi loved her experience there, and when she was looking for a home for the Jump!Star project, she reached out to them. 

Kate VanSteenhuyse, founder and executive director of Harvester Arts said, “This sounds incredible. We are definitely interested but we just don’t have the capacity.” 

Ferrandi, of course, responded: “The next North Star doesn’t rotate into position for a thousand years, so we’ve got some time.” 

A couple days later, Connie Bonfy, a local patron of the arts, reached out to Harvester Arts to give them a grant for a new project. It was perfect timing. 

Artist John Orth paints one of the large paper sculptures in a warehouse in Cottonwood Falls Monday, June 10. (Photo by Daniel Caudill)

Kristin Beal, co-founder of Harvester Arts, and VanSteenhuyse took on the role of advocates and organizers of the project. They were there to make sure Ferrandi’s vision came to life.

Beal is also an art professor at Wichita State University. She brought Ferrandi in to teach a sculpture class in which students built one of the Jump!Star sculptures, which was made with a Japanese style of sculpture using brightly painted paper. 

Ferrandi and Beal went to a reception at the Ulrich Museum to spread awareness about the project. WSU Provost, Richard Muma, was in attendance and loved the concept, so he invited them to speak at convocation. They were also able to get all first-year students involved through the first-year seminar classes, which participated in a “Decascope,” a look 10 years into the future. 

Another year-long art class at WSU contributed to the Jump!Star project, producing “constellate” events throughout Kansas, including an exhibit at Wichita Riverfest.

Wichita Public Schools also got involved. They created a handclap that they taught all K-12 students in USD 259. 

The project was wide-reaching, touching all corners of the U.S., but found its home here in Kansas. 

What’s next

On June 14, the day before the scheduled Symphony in the Flint Hills, Ferrandi and her team rehearsed the parade and debut of the 12 sculptures inside a tent at the symphony site in Irma’s Pasture; the wind blew too hard that day for the paper sculptures to make an appearance outdoors. 

“The rehearsal was proof of the magic of this project, now we just need to show a larger crowd,” Ferrandi said.

When Beal and VanSteenhuyse got the call that the Symphony in the Flint Hills was canceled, they “felt sick until [they] found out the sculptures were fine.” They said it was surreal. 

No one is quite sure what comes next for the project, but everyone is sure this is not the last time the world will see Jump!Star. 

Harvester Arts hosted one final get-together June 21 to celebrate the work done on the project. Anyone involved in the project, from students to volunteers to donors, were invited. 

The sounds of catching up and reminiscing were drowning out the music. People who had worked for months, some even years, to pull off this project were getting ready to say goodbye to it, despite an unsatisfying conclusion. 

One volunteer in attendance said, “I realized it’s not the end of the project, this is just a new part of its story.”