Celebration Held in Conjunction with Artist Heather Layton’s Global “59 Days of Independence” Project
In the afternoon on Feb. 18 members of the St. Mary’s College campus and local community gathered in the college’s Boyden Gallery, Montgomery Hall, to celebrate The Gambia’s Independence Day—marking the country’s 49th anniversary.
The celebration attracted a large crowd of students and faculty eager to share in something new. Attendees were able to experience and enjoy Gambian food, music and culture, as well as a chance to connect via Skype with the college’s PEACE program students currently studying abroad in The Gambia.
Professor of Anthropology Bill Roberts and Assistant Professor of Art Billy Friebele arranged the event. A panel discussion given by Professor Roberts and Abdoulie Jabang, St. Mary’s exchange student from the University of the Gambia (UTG), highlighted the college’s longstanding relationship with The Gambia and UTG through the PEACE program. Acting Gambian Ambassador Baboucarr Jallow provided closing remarks over Skype.
The festivities were held in conjunction with “59 Days of Independence,” a global project by artist and University of Rochester senior lecturer, Heather Layton. Layton, who was the college’s visiting artist from Feb. 14-21, in collaboration with her husband, Brian Bailey, professor of adolescent education at Nazareth College, created the project to acknowledge the independence days of 59 countries, including the U.S., who have separated from British rule. The yearlong project invites global citizens of all ages, professions and nationalities to commemorate these days, asking participants to celebrate the independence of a country other than their own. “The main idea behind it is freedom for all, not just for me,” Layton said.
Upon selecting a country, participants around the world are asked to plan some form of celebration on that country’s independence day and post documentation to the “59 Days of Independence” Facebook page. Celebrations have been taking place in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, Africa, South America and North America; the college’s celebration for The Gambia ran concurrently with another celebration in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
Layton’s inspiration for starting “59 Days” came to her last August. Reflecting on present-day U.S. foreign policy and the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, she and her husband contemplated the implications of the fighting, wishing to design an educational and interactive endeavor that could reframe conventional understandings of freedom in a more international context.
“We shouldn’t be fighting for our own success, but working to collaborate for global success,” Layton said, who reached out to U.S. embassies in 58 foreign countries to get the project underway.
The total number of celebrations in association with “59 Days” is expected to reach 200 around the world. “It’s been better than we could have possibly imagined,” Layton said, citing the many people who have been involved in the effort.