Artists Striving to End Poverty
Artists Striving to End Poverty (ASTEP) is an organization that aims to educate youth across the globe through the medium of visual and performing arts to empower them to transform their lives and break free from the cycle of poverty. ASTEP currently runs three international programs in Ecuador, India and South Africa. Each program utilizes Volunteer Artists to connect youth to creative outlets, to inspire change.

In Ecuador, ASTEP works in collaboration with an NGO named Project CREO to provide art education to at-risk youth between the ages of 7-16, while also promoting the participation of local parents and school teachers within the community. ASTEP and Project CREO conduct an in-school and an after-school program that trains teachers and students to create original pieces of visual and performing artwork that explore pertinent social themes affecting the demographic.

In India, ASTEP has partnered with two organizations to promote social change through the arts. ASTEP Volunteer Artists facilitate art-intensive summer camps for Shanti Bhavan Children’s Project, a school and home for socio-economically disadvantaged children outside the city of Bangalore. The programs include instruction in music, theatre, dance, and visual art to augment personal development and academic performance for students, from ages 5-17. In 2013, ASTEP and Teach for India established a pilot program to integrate the arts into classrooms and produce the MAYA project. The MAYA project will provide 100 low-income students with the opportunity to participate in a musical that highlights the values of courage, compassion, wisdom, and the importance of self-discovery. The show will debut in November 2014 to commemorate Teach For India’s 5-year anniversary.

ASTEP originated its work in arts education in South Africa in 2005 through partnerships with the Ubuntu Education Fund (Port Elizabeth) and the Refilwe Community Center (Johannesburg). Currently, ASTEP has been helping lead a project called artsINSIDEOUT, which consists of students and professionals in the performing arts who have been personally affected by HIV/AIDS.Through theatrical, musical, dancing and story telling techniques as well as the visual arts, artsINSIDEOUT strives to inspire its participants to express their creative energy and communicate their own experiences, to assist in the healing process.

ASTEP was founded by award-winning Broadway Orchestrator and Music Supervisor, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, who was inspired by her experience volunteering at Mother Teresa’s missionary in India to effect change in the lives of children in the developing world. At the time, Mary-Mitchell was a faculty member at Juilliard, and collaborated with a group of students to form ASTEP, and demonstrate the power of the arts as a universal tool for fostering a child’s development and success.

– Talia Langman

Sources: Astep, Arts Inside Out Project Creo, Shanti Bhavan, Teach for India
Photo: Astep

project creo

Creo. Language: Spanish. English translation: I believe or I create. Metaphorically speaking, it has incredibly optimistic implications. How fitting that an initiative focused on the belief that children can utilize the creative process of the arts to escape the evils of poverty would take the name this inspirational term.

Project Creo is an organization based in Quito, Ecuador that aims to empower children experiencing poverty through visual art, music, dance, theatre and film. With the help of project facilitators, the children’s creations emphasize their self-worth and the undeniable existence of love in the world. Facilitators include volunteers from the United States and Ecuador, prominent artists and the world’s leading fine arts teachers.

U.S. native Michael Sample founded the organization in 2001 when he visited Quito and felt a strong desire to live in the city and help its citizens. After returning to the U.S., Sample became a professional actor and choir director. He also earned a position with the Metropolitan Opera Guild. Despite all of his success in New York, he still felt his true vocation was with the people of Quito.

In 2011, Sample began the first art project with children in Quito. This was the humble beginning of Project Creo. Its partnership with the Metropolitan Opera Guild added a base in the U.S. and brought more attention to its positive effects on poverty in Ecuador.

Other U.S. contacts were enlisted through a partnership with ASTEP, Artists Striving to End Poverty. ASTEP is an organization originally established by Broadway Musical Director Mary-Mitchell Campbell and students from Julliard. It does research and then takes action to make a child more successful, socially and academically, with the arts. Many of the Project Creo volunteers come from ASTEP, making them more than adequately qualified.

Much of the time, volunteers work directly with children on their projects. Together, they create murals, musical compositions or other artistic projects to be displayed in their community. The projects showcase Project Creo’s message of total love or ways to improve life in the community. For example, one project focuses on ways that recycling and eco-friendly lifestyles lead to progress in society by forming art from reusable materials.

Other projects in Ecuador have included an art exposition promoting healthy living and informative approaches to starting small businesses with art. By working with the Secretary of Education in Quito, Project Creo also works to integrate art into curricula in Ecuador. The in-school programs allow Project Creo to reach a large number of children and introduce artistic methods for the learning process to teachers.

Artists and teachers help the cause by teaching children in person, if possible, or providing free online art lessons. They work through the online component of Project Creo, called iCreo. iCreo invokes technology to make art lessons accessible to impoverished children and share the initiative’s mission with people all around the world.

Since its beginning, Project Creo has expanded beyond Quito. First, the project organized programs in other Ecuadorian communities. Once large enough, centers were established in Africa and India. Now, through information available on iCreo, lessons and project ideas are available to anyone with internet access.

As stated on Project Creo’s website, “if you have a body, you have a child in there somewhere.” The initiative’s efforts embrace anyone seeking liberation through creativity, regardless of age. Music, visual art and other projects initiated by Project Creo provide hope for Ecuadorian “children” on both individual and societal levels.

 — Emily Walthouse

Sources: ASTEP 1, Project Creo, Youtube
Photo: Project Creo