Tolerance posters designed by artists from around the world to be on display in the East Village

Photo courtesy of The Cooper Union

Over the last 200 years, the East Village has established itself as a haven for free-thinking individuals to create art of all different forms, encouraging works that reflect social, political or personal messages. Since its establishment, The Cooper Union, a private college, has functioned as a New York City landmark that has fostered activism, advocacy, and education for over a century— making it the perfect location to host the groundbreaking Tolerance Project, an art exhibition that promotes social acceptance through the power of design.

From now through Feb. 24, a collection of handcrafted posters designed by contributing artists from around the world will be on display in the colonnaded windows of Cooper Union’s Foundation Building in the East Village, with all the pieces sharing the message of inclusion, diversity, and of course, tolerance.

“It’s all part of an effort to spread respect and thoughtfulness in a world increasingly split by distinctions of race, religion, sexuality, and national origin,” said the project’s creator, Mirko Ilić. “In posters that are by turns playful and profound, surprising, and original, The Tolerance Project utilizes the unique power of design to remind us what we all have in common—and what it takes to bridge the divides between us.”

Photo courtesy of The Cooper Union

Ilić, a renowned Bosnian visual artist-activist, first conceived the initiative after becoming inspired by the annual “House of Tolerance” festival in Ljubljana, Slovenia, a similar project that utilizes its platform to advocate for positive social change by reminding the public of the tragedies that took place during the Holocaust.

Since its inception in 2017, The Tolerance Project has reached over 300,000 people in 37 different countries, gaining new posters with each installment. The posters are supplied by each of the region’s prominent artists, whose only requirement for designing the prints is to feature the word “tolerance” in their native language; to date, Ilić has collected over 180 posters for the project. 

Photo courtesy of The Cooper Union

Each exhibit displays the posters wherever they can be seen most by the public: in parks, on university campuses, even on buses— seeking to engage with as much of the population as possible. 

“I have worked with him [Ilić] for over two decades and his hand, eye and mind has contributed incalculable value to the pages that I designed and art directed,” said Steven Heller, a frequent collaborator to the project. Indeed there are times when I was so stymied by conceptual roadblocks that the only savior is Ilic. Like a Sherpa guide, he has led me out of a conceptual wilderness….Mirko Ilić…appears to have an endless supply of image/ideas that unlock and comment on issues of import.”

Ilić began the project with the goal of inspiring positive change among individuals in all corners of the world, however, of the 129 shows The Tolerance Project has staged over the last 4 years, there has never been an exhibit in New York— until now. With thirteen shows in Croatia, a small country with a population of 4 million people, and only eleven shows in the US, with a population of 330 million people, Ilić is stifled by these numbers, forcing himself to question how Americans truly feel about intolerance.

However, after witnessing the impact that the posters have, and the precision and consideration that goes into designing them, Ilić will continue to bring his campaign for the advancement of inclusivity, diversity, and equality in society, around the world.

“I really hope it’s the first of many more to come,” he said of the Union Square exhibit. “The Tolerance Project starts a conversation about inclusion, which can only begin with a foundation of tolerance.”

Photo courtesy of The Cooper Union