Red bowls on floor

Over 900 wheel-thrown vessels make up kelli rae adams' installation "Forever In Your Debt," on view at Mass MoCA starting Saturday, Jan. 8.

NORTH ADAMS — A new installation at Mass MoCA, tackles the issue of U.S. student loan debt — a burden of $1.7 trillion shared by 44 million Americans — by breaking the individual average burden of $37,000 into a tangible and visual presentation — 900 bowls that each hold $40 of pocket change.

Artist kelli rae adams crafted each of the wheel-thrown vessels for "Forever In Your Debt," opening Saturday, Jan. 8 at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, to hold $40, the value she assigns to the labor embodied in each vessel as a way to connect the cost of her own education with the skills it afforded her, while also drawing attention to what is often a wide gap between educational costs and earning potential.

Adams offers viewers the opportunity to engage directly with the work —and the issue — by inviting them to fill a bowl with their own collected coins. In exchange, the artist will send one of the bowls to each participant at the conclusion of the project.

The bowls' red interiors — a reference to “ being in the red” or owing more money than is earned — are gradually obscured by the donated coins, reflecting the incremental erasure of student loan debt.

With its participatory dimension, adams asserts that the student debt burden and its ramifications impact all Americans. This sentiment is shared by the many lawmakers and activists who are calling for some degree of forgiveness and who note the forms of economic inequality perpetuated by the loan system, with first-generation college students, as well as Black and Latinx borrowers, being among those who struggle most.

To participate in the project with a contribution of change,  email inyourdebt@massmoca.org.