WASHINGTON -- Bowls. They’re are pretty useful, right? You put cereal in them. Maybe use them for a haircut (if you get the reference, I feel your pain). For ceramicist Kelli Rae Adams, bowls have a very special place in her memory.  

"I remember growing up back in the 80s, having a household change bowl and I remember that it was thought to be a way of saving money," said Adams. "And I remember at some point it being contexted as this is a way of saving for college.

Adams is one of the many artists showing their work at the By the People festival in DC from June 15 through the 23. Her project, "Forever in Your Debt," a commentary on the student debt crisis, is showing at the Corcoran.  

Adams graduated from Duke University with about $35,000 of debt -- just $2,000 shy of the average individual student debt burden of $37,000 and thousands shy of any money collected in that household change bowl that her family filled as she was growing up. 

kelli rae adams forever in your debt installation

"The final vision is to have $37,000 situated in physical space," said Adams. She believes that much of the problem with student debt is that it is so abstract. "I think that now, the rate with which tuition increases have happened with respect to even inflation, it’s just so fast that that idea of the change bowl as a saving mechanism has really become an absurdity…in the face of the price of most tuition these days." 

To combat the abstract nature of student debt and to open a dialog about the enormity of the student debt crisis she is using ceramic bowls to represent those household change bowls from her childhood, and asking visitors to bring a pint of loose change to add to the installation. 

kelli rae adams bowl

"The idea is that I’m making a quantity of bowls that is essentially demarcating the volume of this amount of money, in the form of coins," said Adams. "I’ve done some research and calculations and tests figuring out how much coin a pint of volume holds (about $40 in mixed value coins). So that’s the calculation I’m using to determine the quantity of vessels that are in the installation."

She decided to glaze the interior of the bowls with red to signify debt. As visitors bring their spare change to fill the bowls, that red glaze slowly becomes obscured. That's where you come in.  The installation is in essence a method of crowdfunding the $37,000 associated with one person's student loan debt. 

So then what happens with the hopefully $37,000 worth of coin that are collected? Where do they go? According to Adams, "[they] will go toward paying down student debt. Both my own and others. Ideally 50% would go toward my own debt and 50% would go towards that of other people who struggling and suffering under this immense burden."

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