by Jeffrey Harlan, Founder of Dreamlne
The idea for Dreamline was born on a spring day when I took my sixth graders outside to look at each other’s art and words on cloth attached to a line. And they got quiet—outside on a spring day. They wanted to touch the fabric of the art their classmates had made, to read the words, to experience their connected dreams. And they got quiet all by themselves. My co-teacher and I looked at each other. Something exceptional was happening.
The inspiration for our project had come from the poetry of Langston Hughes and the tradition of Nepalese prayer flags, but it was the infusion of art that seemed to ignite the spark in our students, to create the sense that “this is MY dream.” Since that first spring day, Dreamline’s approach has more or less organically spread to be in schools of almost every imaginable type and place—from rural Nepal to a fly-in village of Alaska, from inner-city Los Angeles to a mountaintop orphanage in Tanzania, and from the center of Shanghai to the center of Paris. It’s engaged more than 150,000 students in schools across 42 states of the US and 37 other countries.
Our programming developed as I recognized we had found something important and very much needed in our schools, and we could share it in a way that was accessible to teachers and engaging to students. To foster lasting motivation, positive social good, and community, we have to have a space for connected dreams in our schools. That’s the purpose of Dreamline. We began in sixth grade, but since we started sharing our program, first informally, and then through a nonprofit created in 2016, it has been adapted for every grade in K-12 and beyond. There’s one librarian running an after-school program in Honolulu who has been having 3-year-olds join in for years. And an entire 9th grade in West Philadelphia just finished their Dreamline Banners in the first week of November this year.
Dreamline invites students to use art and words to share their dreams with the world. After a process of reflection, students create individual cloth Dream Banners, expressing their dreams on 9×12 in (23×30 cm) cloth rectangles, often including their personal values as well. The size of the Banner is uniform across our project as a metaphor for equity. Students attach their Banners to a line called a Dreamline–a metaphor to show how we have to be connected to each other to move in the direction of our dreams. We believe each individual has something important to add, so no quotations, no matter how good, or art that’s been copied and pasted.
The Dreamline’s purpose is to go out into the community as a public declaration of our collective values and dreams. It reminds students of what matters to them. It builds community, awareness, and voice. Schools create their own Dreamline installations, from a simple hallway display, to a show in a local community space, or a whole school celebration. And the Dreamline Program hosts an annual celebration, inviting everyone to join in–remotely or live.
In 2016 we created a mobile app to foreground our diversity and to create a way for students to have a direct view of what their peers dream in places all around the world, a building block for empathy. The app, Dreamline World, allows any teacher with a smartphone to upload the art of their students’ Dreamline Banners to our gallery and record the voices of students speaking their dreams.
Tap a Banner online and you see a Google map of where that dream comes from or hear the voice of the student speaking their dream. So far we have Dreamline Banners from students in 21 countries on a digital Dreamline that literally spans the world. And our new TechTags make every cloth Banner digitally interactive, linking it directly to its digital version with anyone’s smartphone–cloth that talks and travels.
Our global goal is to create a network of students moving in the direction of their dreams, connected by art, words, and action. Our community is growing because teachers tell teachers what can happen when we invite our students to share their dreams. It’s art from the heart that resounds around the world. Join us.