Painting the Town Red

Social justice, community leadership, and art all wrapped into one is exactly the kind of formula ’01 alumna, Molly Gochman, has created with her latest ongoing work, The Red Sand Project.

Molly is Guilford’s 2016 Young Alumni Achievement Award recipient. She came to campus last Monday to receive her award and invited Guilford students to participate in the Red Sand Project, as evident by our walkways throughout campus.

At the award ceremony, Jane Fernandes described Molly’s work as art that is “informing the world and transforming people’s lives.” The Red Sand Project, created by Molly in 2014, is a multifaceted project that raises awareness about people living as slaves around the world. By asking participants to place red sand in sidewalk cracks, Molly is reminding us that we can’t merely walk over marginalized people in our community- those who fall through “metaphorical cracks.” Participants share the project on social media, using the hashtag, #redsandproject, to help build the movement. The project has become international, even reaching Bosnia, Thailand, and India.

Molly said that something art can do is “present something for questioning.” She has tapped into the most powerful aspect of art, in that her project provides opportunities for people to question, connect, and take action.

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In her artist talk after the awards ceremony, she gave us an overview of her artistic journey, and I found it so interesting to see how her passion for community evolved into her eventual fight for social justice.

When Molly started at Guilford she thought she would go into Human Rights Law, but art would soon catch her interest and provide her with opportunities to promote human rights in new and creative ways. She came to legitimize herself and her passions in art through the support of the art department, putting her on track to create amazing “celebratory and participatory” art after Guilford that would bring people together and make a difference in people’s lives; art that defied the “elitist and institutionalized” stereotype.

One of her early projects that really caught my attention was “The Giveaway Project III” (2008), where a ribbon of figures was wrapped around a gallery and Molly invited people to erase the figures with lotion, “which is meant to heal and soften,” and cleaning tools, cleaning being “a gesture that we all do.” I found this concept so taboo and exciting. You’re taught growing up never to touch anything in an art museum, but here, Molly has invited people to literally destroy her art. But really, the end result is this beautiful expressionistic artwork in itself that the community created together, just by preforming a common, universal task.

I also appreciated her interest in creating art that could allow people to experience the world in more perceptions than just visual. This 140 foot long land art instillation of “Welcome” spelled out in brail, via turf grass, came out of that interest. I see this as a significant transition into her Red Sand Project, because both projects deal with perception and conveying a message to the viewer.

Molly said that the Red Sand Project’s message was “a conversation that was hard for me to start.” She was really nervous to make an art project about modern-day slavery because she is not a survivor. She said, “I didn’t know if I had the right to make the work,” but survivors were really grateful that she’d created something that wasn’t exploitative, such as a project that relied on images of survivors to make a point. I think the simplicity of Molly’s project is visually and conceptually powerful. It shifts the attention away from individual victims and gets to the main concern: the actually vulnerabilities that led to them being in the situation of slavery.

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Molly Gochman is currently continuing her commitment to the Red Sand Project, sending toolkits to people interested in doing the project in their area. She is also working on the Fine Art Prints- images of red sand in sidewalk cracks, all pared with stories of survivors. You can see more of her work and contact her about receiving your own Red Sand Project toolkit through visiting her website,


Project images provided by with the permission of Molly Gochman



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