Mobile Art School in KenyaThe Mobile Art School in Kenya (MASK) is an award-winning school that provides fine arts education to children in Kenya. In a place where arts education is often neglected, MASK demonstrates how an education focused on creativity and innovation brings more economic opportunity to students. MASK instills critical values like empathy and peace in its students and encourages continued development in Kenyan culture.

The Origin Story of MASK

MASK was founded by Alla Tkachuk in 2007. Trained as a scientist but at heart an artist, Tkachuk moved to London from Russia years before to follow her dream of working in the arts. In 2006, Tkachuk spent three weeks on the Kenyan-Tanzanian border on a painting trip. During her time there, she connected deeply with the people through the universal language of art. She began to wonder what she could do to give back to a community that had been so kind to her.

Tkachuk began hosting a simple painting workshop for children in the village. After a few more workshops, the headmaster of the local school came to Tkachuk with great excitement about her program. Tkachuk then realized that arts was not regularly taught in the region and this deeply troubled her.

After consulting with non-governmental organizations, local schools and teachers, Tkachuk established the Mobile Art School in Kenya in 2007. The program travels from one school to another in rural Kenya, bringing art supplies and a passion for the cause with it.

The Growth of MASK

As MASK became more popular, the program was able to expand. Soon after the school’s start, Tkachuk and her team hosted workshops for teachers in more than 25 schools, supported by Kenyan education authorities. In 2013, with the support of the national press and the Kenyan government, the MASK Awards was developed in hopes of further fostering creativity in students nationwide. These awards are open to all young people in the country and include prizes such as paid internships. Winning artists also get the opportunity to have their work exhibited at London’s Saatchi Gallery and at the U.S. Library of Congress, among other locations.

MASK’s Programs

The Mobile Art School in Kenya has two main programs: Creativity Clubs for children aged 7 to 12 and Creativity for Entrepreneurship and Leadership (CEL) for students aged 16 to 21. Creativity Clubs focus on fun, simple art. The program aims to help children harness their creativity and teaches them how to observe, analyze and connect ideas through creative outlets.

CEL is more practical. It aims to use creativity to train students with skills that will prepare them for the working world. The course focuses on entrepreneurial and leadership skills, teaching students creative problem-solving abilities. After completing this course, students are eligible to be part of the Creative Workforce Project at MASK, an initiative that helps students secure paid internships to kickstart their careers.

MASK’s Impacts

Brittany Glenn, a student at the University of London’s Institute of Education, conducted a case study on the Mobile Art School in Kenya to analyze the importance of arts education in lifting people out of poverty. She found that for many, MASK was an introduction to the fine arts. The program instilled values of peace and empathy and also encouraged cultural appreciation and preservation.

Further, arts education is a critical part of career success. MASK boasts many successful students in various fields who all benefited from the creative problem-solving skills that the program instilled in them. One MASK student, Hellen, came from a remote village in Kenya and now works as a chemist. Her time with the Creativity Clubs and her experience as a MASK volunteer provided her with the critical thinking skills she needed to succeed in college. Hellen even “invented a new domestic poison from a local plant” while studying, which her college planned to patent.

Hellen is only one of the many success stories from the Mobile Art School in Kenya, illustrating how fine arts education can bring people out of poverty and help them flourish.

Jessica Li
Photo: Flickr

Armenian Rugs SocietyBetween 1915 and 1923, thousands of Armenians were massacred in the Armenian genocide. Many Armenian communities now live around the world, with a significant presence in the United States. Committed to remembering the Armenian genocide, the Armenian Rugs Society has dedicated itself to supporting Armenians on a global scale. Through exhibitions of traditional woven arts and the implementation of social programs, the Society has been able to spread awareness of Armenian culture and educate the public on Armenian history.

The Armenian Genocide

During the 600-year reign of the Ottoman Empire, many ethnicities and religions were living within the controlled territories. The Ottoman Empire was an Islamic state and many non-Muslim minorities were subject to discrimination and persecution. Among these populations were Armenians who primarily followed Armenian Apostolic Christianity.

In the early 20th century, the Ottoman Empire, including the modern-day territory of Armenia, underwent drastic political changes. The Ottoman Empire gave way to a Turkish nationalist movement called the Young Turks. The Young Turks aimed to attain a religiously Muslim and ethnically Turkish state. On April 24, 1915, Turkish officials corralled nearly 250 Armenian scholars, intellectuals and leaders with the express intent to execute. The Armenian genocide lasted until 1923 with an estimated 1.5 million Armenians massacred. Forced conversion to Islam occurred for the few ethnic Armenians who remained.

Armenian’s Today

As of 2019, an estimated three million Armenians inhabit Armenia. About seven million Armenians live in more than 100 countries around the world. In the 1970s, the United States saw a mass migration of Armenians from Lebanon, Syria, Iran and the former Soviet Union. In 2003, roughly 1.2 million Armenians lived in the U.S. due to the conflict and discrimination they experienced elsewhere.

San Fernando Valley in California is one community Armenians have migrated to, making up 40% of the city’s total population. However, the size of the community itself does not guarantee Armenian-Americans’ economic or social welfare. The Los Angeles Times found that while some second or third-generation Armenian-Americans may be wealthy, more recent immigrants still struggle to provide for themselves and live in low-income areas.

Poverty in Armenia is also an issue. In 2019, more than a quarter of citizens in Armenia lived below the poverty line. In addition, more than 20% of the country’s population experienced unemployment in 2020. The Armenian government’s deep issues of corruption affect the poverty rates and the attitudes of citizens. Around the world, Armenians still face the material effects of the Armenian genocide as a result of forced migration. The corruption in their homeland comes with government denial of the genocide itself. Without the lack of support from their government, Armenian citizens live lives of struggle.

The Armenian Rugs Society

To overcome poverty and bring awareness to the Armenian genocide, the Washington-based Armenian Rugs Society was established in 1980 and teaches history through rug weaving. As one of Armenia’s oldest art forms, the Armenian Rugs Society highlights the thousands of years of rug weaving within Armenian culture. The tradition traces back to the brave artisans who worked through decades of hardship. To honor this history, one goal of the organization is to highlight rugs made by orphans who survived the Armenian genocide.

The Armenian Rugs Society, using member contributions, has showcased exhibitions of carefully preserved rugs. The organization has also conducted community events in highly-populated Armenian areas like Glendale, California, hosting its Weaving for Survival conference in the city in 2015. The conference focused on expressing the resilience of Armenian genocide survivors, bringing hope to refugees visiting the exhibit. The show displayed woven rugs, embroideries and lacework made in post-genocidal refugee camps throughout the Middle East. The exhibit’s message was positive, aiming to inspire “the groundwork for a better future for themselves and their children,” through the art and history displayed. The Armenian Rugs Society also teamed up with a nonprofit to teach rugmaking to more than 400 learners in nine different Armenian villages, bringing homage to Armenian culture and creating opportunities for income.

Weaving a Brighter Future

On April 24, 2021, President Biden gave U.S. recognition to the Armenian genocide on its 106-year anniversary. Activist groups and Armenians around the world welcomed this recognition. Biden stated, “Let us renew our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world.” The Armenian Rugs Society continues its work to “represent, support and preserve Armenian woven arts” as a reminder of Armenian resilience.

Madeleine Youngblood
Photo: Unsplash

Art Highlighting Poverty
Art is one of the most popular vehicles of expression. Those who have a message that they desire to share with the world often turn to art to do so. Whether it be in a painting or a poem, art holds the capacity to bring awareness to many important issues. Poverty has been the chosen subject of many forms of art throughout time. A notable example is Jean Francois Millet’s painting “The Gleaners” which depicts two peasant women tending to a field of wheat. Poverty has also contributed to the production of prominent works of art. An example of such a case is poet Edgar Allen Poe, who reportedly produced his renowned poem “The Raven” while living in poverty. Art shines a light on the matters that fundamentally influence society. Here are three examples of art highlighting poverty.

Vincent Van Gogh, “The Potato Eaters,” 1885

Vincent Van Gogh is one of the most well-known and influential painters in the world. Two million people have visited the Van Gogh Museum, which houses much of the artist’s work, since its establishment in 1973. Van Gogh’s paintings continue to receive mass acclaim as well as admiration from art experts and enthusiasts. However, a lesser-known fact is that this famous artist lived in impoverished conditions during many periods of his life. It was through these unfavorable circumstances that Van Gogh derived inspiration for many of his well-known paintings.

One of the most famous works of Van Gogh centering poverty is the painting “The Potato Eaters.” This piece focuses on the De Groots, a farming family residing in the Netherlands, who were sharing a meal with potatoes as the main dish. Van Gogh’s intended focus centered on a peasant family which acquired its means through manual labor.

“The Potato Eaters” receives consistent praise from the artistic community and many consider it Vincent Van Gogh’s first masterpiece. This wonderful painting is an exemplary example of art highlighting poverty.

Gordon Parks, “Flavio Da Silva,” 1961

Photographer Gordon Parks is famous for his groundbreaking photography and many consider him to be among the trailblazing photographers of the mid-20th century. Numerous popular publications have chronicled his works, his photographs gracing the covers of both Time and Life Magazine. In his career, the famed photographer chose to focus on issues of race, social injustices, civil rights and poverty.

In 1961, Parks was on assignment for Life Magazine to document poverty in Brazil. His project followed the father and head of the Da Silva family. Captivated by Da Silva’s son, Flavio, Parks decided to use the 12-year-old as his primary subject for the photo series. The Da Silva family, who were residents of Rio de Janeiro Favela, thus became the portrait of poverty in Latin America.

The photo series caught the attention and hearts of readers across the United States, resulting in $26,000 (estimated to value over $200,000 today) in support of Flavio and his family. With the donated money, Life purchased a home for the Da Silva family in a Rio suburb. Flavio, who at the time experienced various health issues, received free medical treatment from the Children’s Asthma Research Institute and Hospital in Denver for two years. The series “Flavio De Silva” would go on to become one of Gordon Park’s most popular photograph essays in his extensive career. Certainly, it stands as another instance of art highlighting poverty.

Bob Marley, “No Woman, No Cry,” 1975

Throughout his musical career, legendary reggae artist Bob Marley consistently highlighted poverty and other social issues in his art. “Get up, Stand up” and “Redemption Song” are songs from Marley’s extensive discography centering on social and political issues. The track “No Woman, No Cry” has become one of Marley’s most popular songs focusing on poverty. “No Woman, No Cry” is not only a fan favorite but has also garnered acclaim by landing a spot in the top 40 of Rolling Stone’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” list in 2003.

Co-author Vincent Ford resided in Trench Town, a poverty-stricken neighborhood located in Kingston, Jamaica. In his young adulthood, Marley relocated to Trench Town and spent much time with Ford at his residence. As a result, Marley learned how to play the guitar under Ford’s guidance. Both Ford and Marley drew inspiration from their destitute surroundings for the song that would reach far past the community.

Art is the stage for bringing significant societal issues to the attention of the world at large. Through the three varying forms of art listed above, the international community can see the ways exemplary forms of art are highlighting poverty, showing how it intersects with social movements and moments of perseverance.

– Imani Smikle
Photo: Flickr

Young South African Artists
Since the Disney animated film debut in 1997, “The Lion King” franchise has grown to over 24 on-stage productions worldwide, grossing almost $9 billion and being experienced by over 100 million audience members. Today, the KwaMashu Community Advancement Projects (K-CAP) has provided support to young South African artists and helped them make their way to global stages in productions of “The Lion King.”

About “The Lion King”

Having won six Tony Awards, including for best musical, many have hailed “The Lion King” as one of the most daring and impressive musicals of all time. The success of the performance owes to the innovation of director Julie Taymor, whose experimental theatre and puppeteering experience brought the story to life through signature costume designs. All the characters of the story are animals, which headdresses, masks and puppetry represent. However, the actors are just as visible to the audience as their animal costuming with the “duality” of the characters foregrounding the talent of the actors, who are the heart of the show.

The acclaim of The Lion King also lies in its soundtrack, which the South African choral style inspired. When casting for the musical, Taymor and her producers wanted to retain the inspiration by returning to its source; in most productions of “The Lion King,” at least eight cast members are South African. In South Africa, one of “The Lion King’s” casting partners is Edmund Mhlongo, who shared in a recent interview with The Borgen Project that for South African performers, “It’s job creation for them that is permanent. As long as they are alive and healthy, they are employed by The Lion King.”

K-CAP Empowers Youth through Arts Education and Employment Opportunities

Edmund Mhlongo is the Artistic Director and founder of KwaMashu Community Advancement Projects (K-CAP), a nonprofit organization that aims to use the creative arts as a tool for youth empowerment, sustainable employment opportunity and community development. Founded in 1993, K-CAP centers around KwaMashu, a township 20 kilometers from the eastern seacoast that has historically experienced high crime and poverty rates. Mhlongo explained his focus on the youth of the community saying that, “I realized that most people who are involved in crime are youth. The majority of youth are very talented, and if you don’t keep them busy with something positive, they end up using that energy negatively.”

In 2003, Mholongo opened his own education center with K-CAP, the Ekhaya Multi Arts Center (K-CAP EMAC) to support young South African artists. Auditions for the school occur annually to find the most talented of the local youth, and since its founding, the center has expanded to cultivate 156 primary and secondary students, 32 of whom are full-time residents. While a full-time program director, Mhlongo himself also teaches script writing, directing and acting courses. Meanwhile, other teachers develop students’ dancing, music, drama, film or visual arts skills. Mhlongo expressed, “They are very creative. Each day I learn a lot from them. I enjoy arts education, especially for kids, I wish every school could have an arts education.”

K-CAP has prepared its students for employment in entertainment outlets such as music recording and South African TV. In fact, 23 of its alumni have gone on to perform for “The Lion King” at different international venues, including the Broadway stage in New York City.

K-CAP Festivals and Celebration of South African Culture

While training students for professional artistic careers, K-CAP EMAC also hosts annual festivals that celebrate different aspects of performance and South African culture. For example, in April, the organization hosts a Freedom Month festival, commemorating the liberation of South Africa by Nelson Mandela and the birth of constitutional democracy in 1994. In December, the annual programs conclude with K-CAP’s African Film Festival, a whole week of films that concludes with a weekend of workshops that South African artistic celebrities lead.

These festivals and partnerships serve to both inspire and enrich youth’s understanding of their craft and culture, as Mhlongo detailed, “I view arts as development and a basis of life, it starts with culture. I regard a person who doesn’t know his or her own culture like a tree without roots. For me, culture is the starting point, then arts. Arts makes you connect with the world. It speaks all languages. It has no boundaries. And during these times, I have seen arts comforting people when they are in bad situations. Arts is a critical component of society. That’s why we have TVs. People, when they’re stressed, they go and watch TV, and that is art. Or they listen to music, and that is art. Art is part of life, a way of life. The most active communities in arts are the communities with less social problems.”

A Global Arts Education: Virtual Learning and Travel

Mhlongo also sits on the National Arts Council Board of South Africa, where he acts as a development counsel and lobbies to ensure that the arts have the necessary funds and resources to continue supporting developing young artists or create the dance studios, recording studio and computer lab at K-CAP EMAC. Adjusting artistic programs to virtual platforms has been especially important during the COVID-19 pandemic, as Mhlongo shared, “We’ve learned a lot through the pandemic. We never saw technology as a part of arts. But now we’ve learned. We know that technology is important, it can be easy for us to use in the arts, which opens the world for us because they can be accessible, even internationally.”

As K-CAP continues to grow in popularity and impact by helping young South African artists, Mhlongo envisions greater global opportunities for his students. He explained that “My biggest dream is that these kids can maybe annually go international. I’ve seen the kids I have taken overseas. When they come back, they come back different people. They change. They see the world differently. They learn to admire their own country, their own world, in a different way.” For these young artists, a global and artistic education prepares them for a world of creative opportunities.

– Tricia Lim Castro
Photo: Wikipedia Commons

Art and Medicine
History reflects the intersection of medicine and the arts. The world’s medical community has always been at the forefront of creatively viewing and solving maladies while weaving altruism and expertise. The works of classically trained professionals like Alberto Burri, Charles Bell and Constantin Brancusi are some of the finest examples of the outreach potential for art and medicine. In the present, artists and doctors are still merging medicine and the creative arts, spreading their healing practice through mediums as unexpected as their duality. This article highlights four individuals who gracefully balance this duality.

Emtithal ‘Emi’ Mahmoud

Sudanese UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Emtithal Mahmoud is the embodiment of a multi-disciplinarian, balancing her dual degrees in Anthropology and Biology with a win at The Slam Poetry World Championship in 2015 with her poem “Mama.”

Mahmoud and her parents fled Darfur, arriving in the United States in 1998. The blending of poetry, biology, anthropology and activism may seem unlikely. The poet described her thoughts on the synergy in an interview with NPR, “I study people from the inside and people from the outside.”

Through her charitable outreach and activism, Mahmoud brings awareness to the plight of refugees and, more recently, to those the pandemic impacted. Mahmoud performs and hosts poetry workshops, while also visiting field camps. Additionally, Mahmoud is pursuing a career in medicine. However, she plans on continuing her advocacy for awareness about diseases like sickle cell anemia and for refugees.

Dr. Gbadamosi “FolaDavid” Adefemi

Dr. Gbadamosi Adefemi is a speed painter and visual artist, as well as a medical doctor based in Nigeria. Dr. Adefemi fuses the studies of art and medicine to change social beauty standards. Dr. Adefemi has a fascination with the conditions he treats, particularly those visible on the skin of his patients. His eye for the unique leads him to create artistic representations of wrinkles, freckles, stretch marks and other skin features. Dr. Adefemi hopes to make everyone feel good about themselves and their bodies.

The Lagos native began drawing in medical school and eventually became the foremost speed-painter in Nigeria. Dr. Adefemi continues to practice medicine during the COVID-19 pandemic and hopes to continue influencing his patients and people everywhere to love themselves through this globally difficult time. In February 2020, he explained the melding of art and medicine to Face 2 Face Africa, “I mainly use my hand to take care of people, to heal them, treat them and make life a lot easier for them. And the same thing I do with my art.”

Dr. Venis Wilder “V. Tiarra”

Dr. Venis Wilder, medical director and performance artist, embodies the concept of bold fusion. Her medical career culminated into a passion for social justice in her South Florida community, and eventually, into her unique sound as V. Tiarra. She creates a blend of hip-hop, pop and R&B elevated with quick social commentary about politics, feminism and relationships. Her career as a medical director allows her to see the social problems in her community firsthand. Dr. Wilder discussed her choice to pursue music, stating, “I feel that sharing through music is a way to affect a larger number of people than I could see day-to-day in my office.”

V. Tiarra describes music as “healing,” and she continues to draw on music’s healing qualities during the pandemic. Most recently, she was a featured performer at the 2020 Blue Gala in Florida and released an album titled “Digital Love” in August 2020.

Dr. Sharanbir Kaur

Dr. Sharanbir Kaur or Sharan, to her friends and family, brings optimism to her patients and to her thousands of fans. The dentist from Delhi describes herself as introverted by nature. Dr. Kaur found that art was a way to connect and motivate people. She feels spreading positivity and a feeling of connectivity is especially important during the pandemic.

Thus, positivity is the force behind Dr. Kaur’s pieces, even those highlighting stressful subjects. “I went through several bad patches. It was during one such bad phase that I found art,” said Dr. Kaur in an interview with eShe. Dr. Kaur is currently splitting her time between clinical hours and illustration. One can view some of her illustrations from her Instagram account titled, the_blue_frenchhorn.

These doctors and artists are paving the way to a brighter future for the global community. Hopefully, more people will aspire to spread positive messages of their own and to pursue interdisciplinary careers.

Katrina Hall
Photo: Flickr

Cambodian art
Worldwide, COVID-19 has impacted many countries and peoples’ daily lives. While not all countries have been affected in the same manner due to their respective population demographics, economies, etc. — places with a contained outbreak are far from lucky. As of the beginning of July 2020, Cambodia has had 141 confirmed cases of the new virus and zero deaths; possessing one of the world’s most desirable records for disease containment. However, citizens canceled many gatherings and traditions due to the constant spread of the new virus, in order to stave off the increasing numbers of infected. In a country filled with culture and art, postponing annual festivals poses a significant threat to society — both from an emotional and economic standpoint. As a result, many long-standing art troupes are facing closures and this, in turn, is negatively affecting the Cambodian art industry.

A Brief History

In the past, Cambodia faced a difficult battle with its culture. The country underwent a prolonged civil war and genocidal regime, forcing many traditional forms of Cambodian culture to the brink of vanishing. In addition to the political stress on the art industry, many artists faced financial struggles and gave up their passions in return for a stable outcome. Although the Cambodian arts encountered numerous obstacles, certain traditions have outlasted these struggles. Albeit, the impact of COVID-19 stands to be the most difficult obstacle for these troupes yet.

Kok Thlok Association of Artists

One of the most popular forms of Cambodian art is through traditional shadow puppet plays. Kok Thlok Association of Artists is a group of artists that includes a majority of French nationals performing this art form. Since March of 2019, this troupe has been entertaining the public by putting on shadow puppet plays (also known as a Sbek Touch) and Yike (a Cambodian art form of Khmer musical theatre). They perform these traditional art forms to showcase and instill their culture into the younger generation and earn income for the artists. With theatre being their primary source of income and the new virus spreading, no performances occur, which in turn prevents these artists from earning their wages.

A Drastic Decrease in Income

Soon after the discovery of Cambodia’s first COVID-19 case in January of 2020, the government ordered the temporary shutdown of places such as schools, museums and cinemas. The government canceled public events, including art performances and heavily encouraged people to refrain from gathering in crowds. As a result, the Kok Thlok Association of Artists was unable to perform and gain income. With this drastic decrease in income, these artists are finding it difficult to feed themselves and pay for expenses like rent. Even in these severe circumstances, however, the association is still committed to preserving the art form.

Siem Reap’s Phare Cambodian Circus

In addition to collecting revenue from Cambodian residents, many art performances have a large following of tourists. Due to the new virus, tourism has halted — which has consequently impacted many other industries and companies as well. The Siem Reap’s Phare Cambodian circus is popular for its ability to combine the Cambodian art of storytelling effectively and artistically with dance, music and other forms of performing arts; the circus is a very popular tourist attraction. With almost no tourist arrivals, establishments like the Phare circus have been deeply affected. The effects of COVID-19 will have a long-lasting impact on the economy and the tourism industry, meaning that entertainers and artists will remain in this situation for some time.

With most of the artists’ primary and part-time jobs lost, many participants are attempting to stay above the poverty line by moving to cheaper areas and by selling goods. In addition to their dire circumstances, there is the aforementioned cultural battle in Cambodia which leaves local residents unable or unwilling to provide monetary support. Apart from monetary issues, these performances helped artists from challenging backgrounds to put aside their problems and focus on the art form. Now, with their primary outlet of expression gone, many artists are facing both financial and emotional problems.

An Adaptive Look to the Future

While these artists are managing to barely stay afloat, many theatres are unable to do so. The long-standing Sovanna Phum Theatre — a shadow puppet theatre that blends puppetry with traditional Khmer dance — closed down in May 2020. However, the ministry provides alternate ways for these artists to make money, e.g. through media outlets and other online platforms. In fact, The Sovanna Phum Theatre relocated to the School of Fine Arts. Although their performances are online and difficult for the performers to adjust to — the government has provided them with a temporary solution. It is unknown how long this solution will last, but the Cambodian artists hope for the best and pray that COVID-19 does not hurt their chances of performing in the future.

– Aditi Prasad
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

International BlessingsInternational Blessings, an online store launched in 2012, supports the livelihood of over 20 artisan groups in 15 countries around the world. Missouri native and entrepreneur Sarah Barnett started the business after encountering global poverty first-hand during a two-week mission trip overseas. She came home eager to make a difference by helping impoverished families establish a sustainable income. Today, her store sells a wide variety of handmade items produced by artisans in developing nations.

Crafts for a Cause

Barnett’s Box of Blessings is the organization’s signature product. With a Box of Blessings subscription, customers receive monthly boxes filled with three or four unique, hand-crafted items from all corners of the globe. Popular selections include earrings, hand-sculpted figurines and more. The artisans tend to favor recycled materials, often repurposing old clay, glass and bone to adorn their crafts. A few more innovative and unusual choices include aluminum cans, seeds and fish scales. 

Another option is Favorite of the Month, a cheaper subscription box containing just one item. Most Favorite of the Month boxes include jewelry such as earrings, a necklace or a bracelet. 

Besides subscription boxes, the online store also sells individual handmade products. With just the click of a button, shoppers can purchase embroidered coin purses from Peru for $8 or leather bracelets from Swaziland for $12. Other featured collections range from lip balms to keychains to hand-dyed cotton headbands. 

Each item comes with a detailed description card introducing its maker and place of origin. The store includes these cards to personalize deliveries, inviting customers to learn about experiences they might not otherwise confront in their daily lives.

Building a Better Tomorrow

All sales contribute to Barnett’s vision of creating jobs and eliminating poverty through the arts. The artisans who contribute their products acquire the resources to feed their families and send their children to school. In addition, International Blessings donates 10% of every subscription box to other poverty-fighting causes.

In the end, International Blessings offers more than charity. It helps impoverished people build stable livelihoods for themselves. Each year, International Blessings also partners with ministries, fair-trade organizations and non-profits to teach the crafts that change lives.

Tapping Into Local Talent

As founder Barnett explains on her website, “I am continually amazed at the creativity and the talent that can be found all over the world… I was in Burkina Faso, Africa, and sitting next to a girl that was teaching me her craft. I realized what a difference it would make for her family if I could purchase a large amount of her bags.”

Barnett saw this opportunity again when she met beading artist Layet Christine in Uganda. Christine now sells her necklaces to International Blessings. She uses the profits to care for orphaned children, as well as seven children of her own. In this way, the young mother is helping to break the cycle of poverty in her village. Her children are learning how to be entrepreneurs and how to hope for a better future.

Since Barnett’s first glimpse into the desperation of global poverty, International Blessings has blossomed into a far-reaching enterprise. The online store continues to provide customers with handmade, ethically-made products that lead to positive changes around the world. Her store continues to impact global poverty by providing jobs, training, and donations for the cause. 

– Katie Painter
Photo: Wikimedia


Guatemala is a country made up of six primary ethnic communities, though the population mostly comprises people belonging to the Mestizo and Maya ethnic groups. These ethnic groups are generationally skilled in creating traditional forms of art, which include weaving, beading and embroidering. Over half the Guatemalan population lives in a highly populated southern mountainous area. Within this region also live the majority of communities that experience poverty in the country. Many individuals from ethnic communities in this region use art to leverage themselves out of poverty.

Poverty in Guatemala

While Guatemala’s GDP has increased by an average of 3.5% over the past five years, high rates of poverty still exist within the country. 59.3% of the Guatemalan population (9.4 million people) live below the poverty line. In surrounding Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) regional contexts, the average per capita growth is 1.6%. Due to high population growth rates since 2000, Guatemala’s recent annual per capita growth is only 1.3%. High population growth rates are, in part, caused by a young population, with a median age of 23.2 years.

The Literacy Gap

Guatemala also experiences lower rates of literacy among women than men. As of 2015, 87.4% of men and 76.3% of women were literate in Guatemala. Between 2002 and 2014, literacy rates among women improved by 13.03%. In recent years, organizations like MayaWorks have worked to address the low literacy rates among women in Guatemala. MayaWorks is a non-profit organization that partners with women from rural communities to transform artisanal skills into sustainable businesses. Across 125 partnerships that MayaWorks has established with skilled Guatemalan artisans, over 40% of women are reported to have never received a primary education — and therefore lack literacy skills. Through one program, MayaWorks offers women in rural Guatemala access to primary education to improve their literacy. Business and literacy training programs enable women to not only improve situations for their families and communities, but also to decrease overall rates of poverty in Guatemala.

Supporting Women’s Education and Entrepreneurship

MayaWorks has shared stories of how business and literacy training programs can relieve women suffering from poverty in Guatemala. The Tz’utujil indigenous group makes up 30% of the Maya ethnic population and is primarily situated in a rural highland region of Guatemala. Women from this ethnic group are skilled in creating Maya-style crafts, including cultural staples such as crochet, hand weaving and treadle foot loom weaving. With the help of MayaWorks, over 52 Tz’utujil women from Santiago Atitlán are leveraging their artisan skills and sharing their cultural forms of expression with businesses in the United States. These partnerships allow for extended solutions to both local and national poverty in Guatemala through international support. Meanwhile, the international business of Mayan artists is strengthening relations between Guatemala and the United States.

The work of Mayan artisans, combined with the financial and educational support of MayaWorks, has already begun to alleviate poverty in Guatemala. Overall literacy levels for Guatemalan women have increased, which has also led to the employment of more women within the country’s workforce. According to the World Bank, employment rates for women in Guatemala have increased from 23.24% in 1999 to 40-45% in recent years. On a localized level, many women are now able to obtain security for their families and communities. Above all, working with MayaWorks equips women to be self-sufficient in running businesses and managing finances. This results in a generationally sustainable, long-term solution for reducing poverty in Guatemala.

Lilia Wilson

Photo: Pixabay

Art Programs Alleviating PovertyGlobal youth art programs aim to alleviate a range of poverty issues from addressing social injustice or trauma to promoting healthier living. They are ambitious and innovative with results that are not only beautiful in the final product but in their process as well. Many of these five youth art programs alleviating poverty worldwide function as localized, hands-on projects centered around at-risk children.

With a need for such necessities as health care, clean water and adequate sanitation, why is art viewed as a beneficial use of resources? Thematic art, such as a creating a mural, can collaboratively explore a social topic and tell a personal story, not only creating strength of community between artists and student artists but also acting as a form of therapy. Many programs cite improved mental health as a goal. Participants benefit from investing time on a project with a positive tone. Below, we explore five outstanding art programs that are alleviating poverty worldwide.

5 Youth Art Programs Alleviating Poverty Worldwide

  1. Art Sprouts
    In Kafue, Zambia, the Amos Youth Centre (a project of the African Education Program) provides before and after school support for kids through a variety of programs. The center trains youth toward leadership and provides the education girls need to avoid marriage or pregnancy at a young age, which directly combats a situation of ongoing poverty.In 2016, Amos Youth Centre began a collaboration with Art Sprouts which organizes volunteers and creates programming around the world. Art Sprouts recognizes that schooling for impoverished kids tends to lack subjects such as art, focusing instead on the basics. The organization aims to help children express themselves creatively and discover artistic talent while exploring social issues, such as gender inequality. The chance to engage in art is fulfilling, fun and fosters the commitment of youth at Amos.
  2. Artolution
    Max Frieder and Joel Bergner founded this organization in 2009 with the hope of changing the lives of individuals through the creation and public display of art. Since then, Artolution has received several accolades, including the 2018 World of Children Crisis Award, a UNICEF seal and a GuideStar Seal of Transparency. The organization believes that through community-based art, resiliency and healing can take place.As such, Artolution’s projects take on such themes as environmental sustainability in exploring the effects of plastic in the ocean. The organization also addresses the global refugee crisis by creating public art with communities of displaced kids, building a nurturing and impactful experience with a theme of unity in the midst of crisis.Artolution tackles the stigma associated with mental health issues by creating a safe space to discuss them and how to access help. Artolution’s scope of issues is broad, their programming is implemented worldwide and the administration of their efforts is top-notch. Artolution has established programs in countries around the world.
  3. ASTEP
    The mission of artists striving to end poverty is to give strength to individuals, especially children. They recognize that those living in poverty lack personal choice and that engagement in art is a safe way for individuals to experience the dignity and human right that goes with making choices and creative exploration. Unlike the first two of the five youth art programs alleviating poverty worldwide, ASTEP utilizes performing arts as well as visual arts in its approach.Broadway Musical Director Mary-Mitchell Campbell along with a group of Juilliard students wanted to fight poverty and knew the best tool they had to do so was their art. ASTEP works to awaken creativity and promote critical thinking. A commonality of all these programs is the discovery and strengthening of one’s self in recognizing the effects of poverty and how to proactively fight that determination for one’s future. ASTEP’s programming is located in India.
  4. Global Art Project
    The Global Art Project is on a mission to joyously create a culture of peace through art. The organization was nominated for a UNESCO prize for their accomplishments. Every year they create an art exchange with participation from 93 countries and 155,000 participants. The program is implemented on the ground by more than 200 Regional Coordinators around the world. This program, unique in its worldwide scope of artists, nurtures an appreciation for cultural diversity while finding the commonality of peace-seeking through the theme, “We Are All One.” This view of our interconnectedness creates a global culture of healing, goodwill and reconciliation, bringing awareness and unity.
  5. Adding Color to Lives
    Joel Bergner is a street artist and muralist who found a unique way of bringing his large-scale projects to youth around the world. He created the Adding Color to Lives program through corporate sponsorship with Park Inn by Radisson hotels. The program not only builds relationships and brings hope and inspiration to refugees and impoverished communities but also creates artist mentors who can continue their mission of healing and partnership through art.For Bergner, art is the tool by which he reaches communities in need. He brings art out of the museum and onto the streets where youth can feel the positive impact of their teamwork and self-expression and also feel their voice in the world, as students design the murals themselves through the process. Bergner observes the natural gravitation of people to art during difficult times. The artists create a hopeful image for the world to see, as love and compassion are expressed through collaborative art.

Creating access to arts education for underprivileged youth worldwide nurtures communities on many levels. When children are provided the structure, guidance and materials to create art, they engage in self-expression beneficial to their development. They also have an outlet to tell the story of their culture or community. Children participating in after school art programs are safe and engaged. Arts education can be an agent of social change and address powerful injustices such as violence, trauma and gender inequality. Sharing joy and struggle, relationships are built through the creation of art. Art can promote healing, resilience and healthy living and break the cycle of poverty for individuals.

Susan Niz
Photo: Flickr

Artists against PovertyHistorically, art is a concept too broad to comprehend on a simplistic term. It can reference painting, drawing, music, writing, sculpting, acting, most creative ventures tend to fall under the category of art. With such a wide scape, it is no surprise that art also covers a range of topics, from love to politics to recycling. Poverty is a matter which has not escaped the global creative community and artists all over the world use their work to either raise awareness or take action against poverty. There are hundreds of thousands of relevant artists and projects around the world, though a few have caught significant attention for their contributions to the problem. Though a small sample, this article features a few of these artists against poverty and shows how art can be more than a pretty picture.

Willie Baronet

Willie Baronet is an artist, advocate, professor, entrepreneur and creative director who has dabbled in various projects and industries throughout the years. According to SMU (Southern Methodist University), his career includes advertising and design for several graphic projects, such as Communication Art, New York Art Annual and Annual Report Design: A Historical Retrospective 1510-1990. Baronet was also named as an AIGA Fellow in 2013 for his work in establishing a higher standard of performance for the creative community. His significant work as one of the artists against poverty, however, started back in 1993 with a project called We Are All Homeless.

Baronet began collecting signs from the homeless in an effort to raise awareness of the issue and try to understand their situation better. The project touches on both the moral challenge of those in a higher socio-economic position, as well as the more obvious subject of those in need. The work has won several awards and been exhibited all over the country, proving to be a powerful piece in the global conversation of poverty. Baronet’s contributes to such discussion establishes him as a powerful advocate for the homeless and leading voice in the fight against poverty.

Caitlin Beidler

Caitlin Beidler has taken advocacy to new heights with her art career. Back in 2006, she launched Redemption Art, a business that works to “free people through art,” according to the official website. The project has allowed this artist against poverty to directly interact with those in need by fostering a healthier community through small projects, such as murals with local children and live art events. Beidler has also taken global action by going to Haiti to paint murals with the children there in an effort to boost local morale. The work in Haiti has been done primarily through her sister’s non-profit, Growing Roots, an organization that works to help local communities in Haiti through direct action.

Beidler is a founding member of Growing Roots and helps oversee its four primary branches: Camp Hope, Community Mural Projects, the Planting Project and Mercy Relief. Each project touches on a different aspect of daily life for the Haitian people. Camp Hope is a day camp for local children, the Community Mural Projects are an artistic outlet (as previously mentioned), the Planting Project provides education and Mercy Relief provides aid during crisis periods. The work Beidler as done showcases the important facets of an artist’s life, they can both promote creativity while still contributing to the community. Art is both a means of emotional and practical support.

Michael Rakowitz

Michael Rakowitz is one of the artists against poverty who has taken direct action in fighting for the underdog. His career has spanned decades, with work being featured in such prominent venues as MoMA. Rakowitz is famous for its pieces with multiple purposes outside the artistic realm. In 2013, he opened a restaurant in Dubai called Dar Al Sulh. The art project doubled as nourishment for others as it told the history of the Jewish community in Iraq through the cuisine, showcasing the downfall of an entire people. Additionally, Rakowitz has been working on a long-term project since 1998 in which he turns art into a shelter.

The project, entitled paraSITE, utilizes the heat emitting from ventilation systems to create tent-like structures on the sides of buildings. These temporary homes often look like parasitic insects due to their bulbus form and positioning in the city. They have double lining as space between fills with air to inflate the structure while also heating the area inside for the homeless to sit in. The work—still ongoing today—has garnered mass attention for both its versatility and creative representation in the community. Rakowitz (throughout his career and with paraSITE in specific) proves art isn’t just for viewing or experience; it is an active part of life that can truly help others.

Conclusion

A common misconception about artists is that they are only a voice, they cannot contribute physically to the modern world. Art, however, has been evolving with the times the same way every other industry has for centuries. Artists have adapted to today’s fast-paced, efficiency-focused mindset. They raise the topic to eager ears, find creative ways to asses the problem and act as emotional and mental support to those in need all the while.

– Eleanora Kamerow
Photo: Flickr