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Planting Seeds of Change Through Art

Civic Warriors Episode 18 with Artolution

"The arts can become education."

Civic Warriors Artolution Making a significant positive impact on the lives of others around the world, Artolution has programs in over 30 countries on 500 different projects, and over 70 artists executing on these programs every day. Max and Stephanie talk with us about what role the arts have in crisis response settings, ways in which they have inspired facilitated opportunities for art to be used as an educational tool, and moreover, the ways art has been used as a vessel for immense healing within communities.


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Civic Warriors:
Innovative, dynamic, gritty, determined, warrior.

Hosts:
This podcast is about the innovators, the leaders on the front lines of adversity, the all around good people doing good deeds. They are the civic warriors of the world. Withum’s guests are the leaders in the nonprofit industry affecting change. They try, they fail, they overcome. Through their stories we can join forces to become civic warriors.

Artolution childrenBrad:
On today’s episode of civic words, we spoke with Dr. Max Frieder and Stephanie Madrid from Artolution about strengthening individuals and communities around the world. Through the power of art. Artolution is a community based public art organization that seeks to ignite positive social change through collaborative art making. They facilitate projects around the world that connect diverse peoples in order to address common social objectives and their projects bring children, families, local artists, educators, and community groups together. Their main objective is to address critical issues related to armed conflict, trauma and social marginalization by cultivating a sustainable global initiatives that promote healing and resilience. We had a great discussion with max and Stephanie into what life looks like in a refugee camp and how it is critical that resources and outlets are provided to individuals around the world to live a fulfilling and joyful life. We often take for granted what we have and it’s eyeopening and impactful to hear firsthand accounts of life around the world. Let’s welcome Max and Stephanie to the show. We’ll just jump right into it. So, um, you know, welcome to welcome to the Civic Warriors podcast. We appreciate, uh, your time, uh, with us today, we have, uh, Ashley Krompier, Brad Caruso from women here from the civic warriors team. And we have dr. Max Frieder and Stephanie Madrid from the art Ellucian team. So welcome to the welcome to the show.

Dr. Max:
Thank you for having us. We really appreciate it. This is really exciting.

Brad:
Yeah. So, so, you know, you have a super cool not-for-profit, you know, you’re doing such great work, uh, around the world, you know, bring us up to speed. Maybe tell us a little bit about, uh, Artolution, and tell us a little bit about what, you know, what you’re doing and then we’ll, uh, we’ll go from there.

Dr. Max:
Sure. So, uh, Artolution is an international community based public arts organization, and we focus on being able to have local artists and educators in different refugee camps, conflict zones, traumatized communities around the world. Being able to work with children and adolescents and families to tell their stories through public murals, through interactive for custom sculptures made out of recycled materials through performance dance, puppetry of all form of being able to tell stories. And what we’ve found is that the process of being able to learn how to facilitate this within their own communities has become a totally transformative experience working in the Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, in the South Sudanese refugee camps in Uganda, in the Rohingya refugee camps, the largest refugee camp in history, in Bangladesh, on the border of Myanmar, as well as with the displaced communities of Venezuela in Colombia. And we’ve done programs in over 30 countries, uh, working with doing over 500 different types of projects. And, uh, over the last 10 years, me and my partner, Joel, Bergner, have started this, but now it’s grown that we have over 70 artists around the world who are doing these types of programs every single day. Um, and it’s been something that’s grown into really a movement. And we really believe this is the next phase in history of the arts and education around the world.

Brad:
Yeah. And that’s, that’s incredible. I mean, what, what gave, what gave you guys the idea that, that, you know, there was a need and you felt that man, this is the, this is the issue that I want to focus my time on. Cause you know, it there’s a lot to do in the world, but you know, clearly this, this was a passion of yours. You know, what, what drove you to that?

Dr. Max:
You know, I think it’s like a seedling of life that we were able to see from the work that we had been doing, traveling around the world, that there’s so much talent in every corner of the world. And being able to have that catalyze to be able to grow into a tree many times, the resources aren’t there and that doesn’t mean the talent isn’t there or the passion isn’t there. It’s all, if it’s already in born, it’s about being able to facilitate this. And what we, what happened is we would travel to different places. We started working together and we would always be asked the same question when you do these giant mural projects. And people would say, when are you coming back? And that’s not the right question, the right question is how can we do this for ourselves? And what we decided was really what we need to do is build bridges between institutions like UNICEF or UNH or the red cross and big international institutions and grassroots initiatives of amazing local artists. And what we kind of realized is that that can happen. That it’s something that’s able to change the face of what arts education can mean in crisis response settings. And it really opened up the idea that this is something that can exist even in the most disrupt places with the most trauma that actually that’s where these kinds of programs are the most important. And so as we started doing this, we saw that it starts to gain momentum and that it was something that people were able to grab onto because they were part of something bigger. They’re part of something that had meaning and had this deep rooted care for others. And what that came out looking like was that the arts were actually a medium to talking about very difficult issues. And whether it be gender based violence, whether it be recycling, whether it be know children going to school, those are some of the issues that were coming out, but the arts with a way that they were coming out. So it was really remarkable to see how that grew into now, the sustainable programs we have around the world.

Brad:
Yeah. Which is, which is absolutely incredible to think about. And I think, um, you know, now nowadays, um, I think the arts don’t necessarily get the same amount of tension that maybe some other skills in life may do or, or maybe we may focus on. And so I think it’s, I think it’s great that, um, you know, art is a form of communication in itself. And I think, you know, you and I talked about that a little bit on our prelim call and, and I think, um, it’s incredible to think about how much art can have an impact on, on many things, whether it’s connecting people, whether it’s bringing a community together, whether it’s, uh, giving someone something to do. Right. I mean, I’m, you know, I’m a, I’m a chartist in the fact that I do arts and crafts with my kids, but I’m not. And, and it it’s a thing to do. Um, but yeah, so, I mean, talk, uh, talk to us a little bit about, um, some of the programs that you’re doing right now. I think, I think it’s good to put frame of reference and we’ll go from there.

Dr. Max:
Sure. You know, right now has been such a bizarre time. I think in the history of the world, when we’re looking at, how can we use creativity expression at a time where we’re all separate, right. Where we are all of these different spheres and we’re, and we’re all very much isolated. And what we found is that is that the arts can be a way of connecting people. And, and I found something very interesting to, to, to, to start that answer if I can, a very, a very quick story, which is we, we had a, uh, I had a remarkable experience where we were talking to one of our Syrian artists. Um, and, and he had specifically said, uh, he said, you know, what’s the hardest question you’ve ever been asked. I said, you know, I don’t know I’m going to leave his name anonymous. But, um, he, and I said, well, I don’t know. What’s, what’s the hardest question you’ve been asked. And he said, well, I was asked by my, by my little son, why are people trying to kill us? And, and he was fleeing Syria. He was a Syrian refugee and it was fascinating. And I said, wow, that’s, you know, that’s a really tough question. He said, uh, I’ve watched my children not have not have water, not being able to live. And, and yet every day is better than the last. I said, how, what makes you say that? And he said, because we are still alive and the arts are what gives my life meaning every single day. And right now in this time, that feels so disparate where there’s so much, so many challenges on so many different levels, especially for folks who may not have running water, basic electricity, public health infrastructure. What we’re finding that the arts are something that can, that people can grab onto that, that people can have hope with. And we thought some of the programs that our artists have been able to innovate have just been so inspiring, I think for us to see from our headquarters in New York. And you know, some of the examples that I’d love to share is we’ve actually been able to have our artists in Bangladesh, being able to create a canvases at home with their families about, um, different, important public health messages. And they’ve actually had focus groups with different new moms with being able to talk to street workers, talking to pregnant women. So what are the biggest issues in your lives right now with COVID and then taking all that information and creating more still canvas murals, which now have been bolted up to the main centers of Cox bizarre, um, in the Southern region of Bangladesh. And so it’s been able to take people who can’t leave their homes, but they’re still able to communicate to the greater community. We’ve been able to have our artists create illustrations for caregivers, how to be able to teach their children in the confines of their own home, especially if they’re not literate, they can’t read or write being able to use that and use illustrations to learn about how early childhood development can be able to grow. Um, in the South Sudanese refugee camps, who’ve been able to have our teams creating stop motion animations using local cycle materials, using clay that’s made from the local, um, local mud. That’s there being able to have those stories that are told. Uh, so, so each of our different regions have been able to use what they have at their fingertips to be able to use the arts, to tell stories in this time, both the pre prevent the spread of COVID, but also to grab onto something full of meaning. And I think that’s what we’re all looking for in this time is how can we connect with others? How can we feel that we’re connected to, to each other? And, and, and I would love to end, and then, and then move over to Stephanie is we recently hosted a, uh, an international conversation for the first time where our Syrian refugee artists, our Rohingya artists, and our South Sudanese artists met digitally for the first time and had an international conversation. And it was, it was really an emotional experience to have the meet for the first time and be able to then kind of say, well, even though we’re around the world in these very different environments, we all feel the same thing, which is this idea that the arts connect us, that creativity connects us. And that, and that connection, I think, is what we’re building know. I would love to hear Stephanie, your interpretation of that conversation.

Stephanie:
I think I’m just going to add to that. I think that was one of the key things that we hadn’t noticed before was having the teams meet each other and also our regular connection with them. Um, because we started to initiate this program called our virtual bridges program, which is sort of a professional development sector of our organization, where we take the time, and this was an initiative free COVID and it just transformed to a virtual platform where we would meet with our teams weekly and start training them in different type of practices, whether that was the art storytelling, that was the art of creating characters. Um, so essentially many workshops where we would spend time with them for an hour and kind of give them other disciplines of skills that they could then bring to the participants that they worked with in, in their local communities. Um, but one thing that we did realize was that constant connection, which we probably wouldn’t have been able to maintain if we were all physically and in different places and moving around and traveling, we were actually able to connect weekly and our teams see each other’s faces. They got to see our faces more regularly. I work in content management. I was not always going to see their faces regularly. I’m able to see their faces on a week to week basis. And they now know who I am. They know what my home looks like. Um, and it’s a really beautiful thing. I think after we did it, we’ve been doing these lives, um, conversations frequently. And we had one with, um, just, just a personal story with Anne Hawara and DCS who are lead artists in our Bangladesh teams. Um, and they had this beautiful reaction after this conversation said, it’s so great to see you. And another colleague of ours, who’s also a woman be in this room with us and get to see that, you know, women can do everything they can actually get on live conversations and interact digitally and create art. And that’s been a huge theme in Bangladesh is empowering women as well, um, to be lead artists. So it’s been monumental actually. There’s been a lot of silver linings amongst all the chaos and, and, and different things that we are all kind of coddling with during the time.

Brad:
Yeah. Yeah. And we’re going through, I mean, I mean, we’re all, I think all experiencing in at different lengths, I’m sure many, many of the folks that you’re working with are experiencing the potentially the COVD crisis, maybe worse, you know, we’re trapped in our homes, but we have access to different resources that many of the folks that you work with may not, or probably do not. Um, so I’m, I’m curious just, um, how, how you pivoted to that and how you, how you actually pulled that off. Cause I’m always curious, as we talked about in the beginning, we had technological difficulties even getting started here. How did you, you know, how do you, how do you pull off, um, you know, these, these virtual conversations, um, you know, cause there is somewhat of a, I imagine around the world, a digital divide with access to resources, wifi, all this other crazy stuff. How did you make that happen? I’m just, I’m just curious.

Artolution painted handDr. Max:
Yeah. Well that was something we were really on the, on the edge of is that there’s certain areas where we work, where people may not have running water or they may not have access to electricity yet people will do everything in their might to be in communication. And, and they, people will literally walk for hours to get to a place where they can have a wifi signal. And what we found is that when we provide that kind of forum, um, people will do everything they can to be in connection. Just last night, we had a meeting with our Rohingya refugees and it’s, it’s very challenging for them to get internet, but they will do everything they can to be able to get connected. And we, we we’ve also provided data plans. Um, that was something that we added into our work, which was, you know, if we’re going to be able to do this work in connection, it’s so important that they can maintain ongoing connection to our work. And so we were able to change, you know, pivot so that they could be in connection number one. And then second is that we, we had certain, um, already preexisting contracts, but, but they all were based on bringing large groups of kids and teenagers together to be able to create large scale public artwork. And that can’t happen. So what we had to do is every, every project that we already had going, we had to change and, and we had to do it immediately. And what we kind of realized is, is arts are so wide ranging in the ways that you can use creativity. That even if we can’t necessarily be out in a group, painting a mural together, there’s lots of other things that we can do. Small group programs, which we’ve done out in better social distance, being able to, to use digital technology, uh, performance, different kinds of storytelling. But what we really realized is we need to change right away. Cause for these folks, this is also their livelihood, our artists, this is how they’re, you know, being able to have food on their table. This is the way that they’re able to live. And in many of these cases, for example, in the South Sudanese camps, this is the first time that there’s ever been a group of local refugee and host community artists, that this is their full time livelihood. And so and so because of that, we were very adamant that we need to find ways to adapt our strategy, to be able to really deal with what’s happening on the ground in real life. And what we found is different situations are very different. Our human and Syrian camps, for example, um, in Jordan have gotten much closer back to back to normal life now because of how well Jordan has dealt with the crisis compared to Bangladesh where things have been incredibly challenging and are still getting more challenging every day. So, so we’re, we’re constantly having to kind of flex and change and we scoped ourselves. And I think it’s the fact that being able to kind of recognize at the core, whatever the medium is, the core of it is, is the belief in creativity. And that if that isn’t necessarily what somebody is used to, then they’ll learn new skills and use that. Right. But in the end, it’s that same motivation to want to make a difference in the lives of others.

Brad:
Yeah. I mean, and that, and that’s, that’s so powerful. Just that message that you have and how, how from your PR, I mean, how do you go about, um, you know, when you talk about creating these large scale Myrtle murals, you’re involved, how do you go about kind of starting that process? You know, the education side of things, the, I mean, there’s probably a little bit of a language barrier and I imagine in certain cases, you know, how do you go about that process? And I don’t know if you have any stories that, you know, maybe on the ground story to bring that to life, but, uh, yeah, just curious, curious on that.

Dr. Max:
Sure. Um, so, so I’ll, I’ll first start with just a very quick overview and then I actually have a quote that I’d want to share from one of our artists that I think tells what that actually means, what the core meaning for us, all of our artists, um, that we use, many of them have not had that much experience or, or in certain cases, I haven’t even been able to go to school, um, especially those who were in Myanmar. And so, so really the core is how do we create interactive storytelling, where we’ll get a group of kids together and say, what are the most important issues in your life? And then they only drawings. And then those drawings then we’re able to, to, to facilitate, to actually become a collaborative and interactive storytelling workshop, where then we take all of those different stories and put them together into one single narrative, into one single composition. And then that composition is then transferred onto a wall where that each different element might have specific themes. One is about under equity, let’s say. And then another element be specifically about the right to education. And another element might specifically be about the right to clean water. And so, and so each element will be able to tell a single story. And then within that, it actually involves the participation of all of the children. Were there the ones who were painting it facilitated by the artists within their own communities. And so it’s really something where they’re able to see this art and say, that could be me, right? This is something where they can, they can have a role model of what this looks like. Now, one of the things, especially for, for my research within my, my doctoral work at Columbia is what are the, what are the cognitive and psychological and behavioral implications of this? What does this mean to both individual children and to the artists? And, and we have an amazing quote from one of our female artists tools are that I really wanted to share because it’s one of the most powerful quotes I’ve really, really had. So this was translated from rookie and Kia. Uh, for those who don’t know, the written get minority are a Muslim minority coming from the Enmar that experienced a genocide starting in 2017, um, where were over 700,000 people crossed over the border into what is now the largest refugee camp in history called [inaudible] along. And, um, and this was, was an interview that we took with, um, with, the story is just remarkable. So I’m going to read it directly. Um, just so you can hear her exact quote, this is from October 8th, 2019. “When we were in Myanmar, we were in jail. We were detained. We were in jail, just lived as detained people. And we family members and our husbands and fathers were killed. There’s a horrible situation inside of Myanmar. When I arrived in Bangladesh, I couldn’t even speak and I was traumatized and I wasn’t able to speak to the people because I didn’t feel anything that I was alive. People would ask me and share things. And I was just quiet. And I feel that there’s the same situation. When I work at engage with Artolution, I started to speak, I feel like get my life back. And I was reborn and I try to speak and I continue to speak. And this is not only me. There are around the camp. There are thousands of people like me. When I visit the camp and work with different people in different camps, I help them to speak. And thousands of people are like them. I want so that I can help all of the people, those who do not have a voice, they can raise their voice and they can say whatever they want. This is what I want to keep continuing every single day”.Dildark, October eight, 2019, politically reggae refugee camp. And I think that story really what’s possible does a woman who went from such severe trauma to becoming this agent of social change, where she’s a leader with in her own community, through the process of making art, right. That arts and education can be the catalyst to make that happens, I think is the core of what our work is, is striving to achieve.

Brad:
Yeah. I mean, that, just that, that itself, uh, I would, I would imagine exemplifies many of the ideals that you’re, that you’re addressing, you know, one of which is, is, is providing, um, you know, a resource, uh, providing an outlet, providing the, the empowerment, if you will, to take a step forward, you know, and, and I can’t imagine the, the horrors of living, you know, just living in, in some of the environments and, you know, just the beginning of your story described as being in jail, just jail. Um, I, you know, we, we all can’t fathom that. And I think that just, that helps us understand a little bit, but, but not enough. Right. So if you think about what are the issues that many of these refugees are facing, you know, obviously you’re helping in a capacity, but from your research and your working, you know, that was one example. What are some of the, um, what are some of the effects of living in a refugee camp? What are some of the, some of the challenges that they’re facing on a day to day basis?

Dr. Max:
Sure. I think there’s, there’s kind of different levels of challenges. There’s many of the challenges that I think most people commonly think of, which is, you know, access to shelter, water, uh, being able to have the basic necessities met. But, but, but what people, I think don’t always realize is that that’s only a beginning. So what happens to the psychological well-being, the mental health, the ability to, to believe that you have the right to have a dream for the future and, and that concessions, what’s harder to try to, to, to try and stimulate within a population. That’s not an easy thing to be able to do cause you can’t just, you know, give a bag of rice to, to, to solve that. And so what we found is that is that arts and creativity are actually, uh, not an ends in themselves. They’re actually a vehicle to be able to create some of those behavioral shifts. And so being able to change the conception of who am I, my relationship to myself, to my family, to my community, to the world is something that’s really crucial. And actually one of the most I’d say emotional and amazing things is we found that being able to realize that you’re connected to others, right? So, so I think all over the world right now with the Kobe crisis, we’re all facing isolation. However, the reality is, is social isolation is a prevalent and very, very common underlying trend across refugee camps around the world. Do people even know who I am? Nobody cares about me. I’m stigmatized because I’m being labeled as either a refugee or a stateless person. And, and being able to change that narrative to saying, I am going to take hold of my narrative. And I have a story to tell, and for women like guilds are for her, she, she’s never been able to be out in public to be a leader, to be able to really take on that kind of a, a, an inspiring role yet just when you, when you crack that door open, even if it’s just a little bit, it, you see the colors that just explode out. And I think that’s really one of the values is that when, when a fertile soil is being able to be watered, that that there’s potential in, in the furthest corners of the world. And I think that’s really an important component for people realizing their own potential. And I mean, one of the other people on that team, which was, which was a little bit of a different story was one of our artists who specifically said what my dream, my whole dream, when I was a child, was to be an artist. And my mother told me, you will never be an artist because all artists get killed in Myanmar. And, and, and, and he said, you know, he would take charcoal and pieces of crash and draw in hiding in his home because of how much he believed in the arts. Then he had to flee his home. His whole village got burned. And when, and, and they had to dig holes in the ground. And, uh, during the daytime, they would hide and cover themselves in dirt. And then during the nighttime, they would run. And then, then they made a, a boat out of bamboo when they got to the border. And they ended up going across to, to Bangladesh. And when he got there, he said they didn’t have enough food to live. And so he was, he was literally walking around just trying to find some kind of a job or something could do. And, um, and crazy enough, he ended up actually meeting me and, um, and, and, and our team, or me and we, and the people we were working with. And we were looking for artists. People said, there are no artists here. Artists do not exist because they were never allowed to exist in Myanmar. And, and he said, well, well, that’s not possible. They’re artists, every single community in the world is the foundation of culture. We just need to look. And, and, and I stumbled into this amazing man who came over and said, you know, I don’t know if I’m an artist, but I used to love making drawings alone in my home. Maybe I could be an artist. And after working with us for months, he’s become one of our lead artists. And now it’s been three years of him working with us. And what he said, he told me, he said, Musho LA, by the way, by the will of God, I had to go through all of this trauma, all these terrible things. And I sat down with my mother and said, even though we lost so much, I have now been able to gain something even greater, which is my dream. And, and I think that idea of a dream is the foundation of the work that we do, whether it be, you know, one of our artists in the South Sudanese camp who, whose whole dream was to become a teacher. And she came over and said, I never thought I could be an artist. And then I started making art with you. And now not only can I be an artist, but I can be an inspiration to girls to show that they can be artists. And I think, I think that kind of a feeling that idea that you’re part of something larger and that you can be a maker of history, not just somebody who set that side of history, but actually came from history is I think a foundational element of the work that we do and that we we’ve chosen to use murals and public arts forums, but I think this could be done to any creative, medium. And, and for us, we really believe that that’s the power of connection and relationships.

Ashley:
That is amazing. So how do you get, um, these individuals to kind of come out of their shell and, and figure out, but they have all this hidden potential and then show to them that they can actually expand upon it in a way that’s helping so many in their community. How does that kind of mellow?

Dr. Max:
It’s a great question. And I think one of, one of the elements that we found is that education needs to take new forms. We’re finding that education is changing what it means, especially right now, where we can’t be going to schools and sitting in a classroom in a normal forum. So, so when we’re teaching, we do a lot of teacher training workshops. Stephanie was talking about our professional development work and, and for us, we’re teaching both elements of how do you facilitate a mural? How do you work with a group of kids? How are you able to facilitate a meaningful experience, but also how can you create something that has bleeding in a new way that, that is based on the local cultural, artistic traditions, whether that be floral pattern making of some of the work that we do in Bangladesh or in, or South Sudanese these context, some of the amazing pattern making that we’ve incorporated into our murals, but, but the real answer is I think a lot about team building is being able to get groups together to feel that they can, that they can make a difference. I think one of the other elements, if I can say it is, I was lucky enough to, to teach a course, uh, recently at a Columbia university that the title of it. And I think it answers a little part of your question is community as educator, art’s potential for reshaping the future. And the idea that a, that a educator doesn’t just have to be a teacher in a school, but then it can be a teacher in a school in addition to the community and being able to have a community become a teacher of itself and using the arts as a way to make that a reality, I think has become a really crucial tipping point, um, of being able to say alternative education education that can exist in places where maybe it’s not allowed where we’re formal education isn’t allowed. But to say that the arts can become an education learning about soft skills, about social, emotional learning, about the capacity for psychological and social support to come through. And also that this is something that can be fun, but there has to be something fun, engaging, exciting that has to be part of education. And I think that’s a, that’s a crucial part of our work. I hope that answers your question. I don’t know if you have anything to add on that, Stephanie, but I think that that’s something that’s really important.

Stephanie:
Well, I was just going to kind of pair it with what you were saying earlier. I think another part of that is, you know, with a lot of the different communities we’ve worked with, they’re already artists, there are already human beings who are just waiting for that open crack, that open opportunity to just express themselves. Um, you know, for us, we really understood that we’re not bringing resilience to these communities, these communities already inherent to have that resilient nature, that human beings innately. Um, and it’s just a matter of asking how do you see the future? How, you know, asking those questions and people are going to be willing to share it. And sometimes if not most retirees, especially if they’ve lived through something very traumatic art is the, as Max mentioned, it’s a vehicle to create that space where it’s less vulnerable than saying it out loud. Right. Um, you’re able to put some color to it. You’re able to express it through a lost family member or a specific memory that you can actually draw it instead of having to say it out loud. Um, I think that is a big tool for how we’re able to kind of manifest these kind of expressions if you will. So.

Brad:
Yeah, I think a lot of it to just chime in is, is the word, the one word that comes to mind for me. And it doesn’t matter where you live, where you’re from, what you do, what you’ve experienced, you know, everybody needs some element of hope. And a lot of times someone needs to be the catalyst of helping them understand what that hope is. And it’s, it’s, you know, if you’re not, if you have a good life and you’re going through it, you don’t probably think about it, but you realize you have this innate ability to just know, I have hope because I know tomorrow I’m gonna be able to wake up and keep doing what I’m doing. If you don’t have the ability to teach someone and help someone understand that that hope does exist when time and time again, that hope just keeps getting crushed by some external force, whether it be a virus or the environment or the government or the people in the community or whatever it is. Um, you know, the work you’re doing is incredible for that. And so aspect that you are definitely creating hope for men

Dr. Max:
Well, and hope, hope is an interesting and an interesting creature. Let’s say, I think it’s constantly moving and growing and changing. And re-sculpting itself. I say that because I do think a lot of these folks have some of the most hopeful, you know, mentality as we look to the story I told you about our, one of our Syrian refugee artists who said every day is better than the last, even though he’s watched his children not be able to eat or to have water. Right. And the hope, I think what we’re doing is kind of changing the perception of what hope can mean, because I think a lot of these folks are extremely hopeful, but what what’s different is sometimes they don’t actually, um, there, isn’t a way to prove that, right? Yet when you have a group of people come together and say, okay, we let, can we do this? Is this even possible for us to come together and make a mural let’s say, or come together and make a sculpture. And then they do it and say, wow, maybe we have more talent than we thought we had. Maybe we have more potential to achieve than, than we thought it was possible. And then that inspires a whole different perception, but hope to me, cause then it’s intrinsically inter interlinking and embedded with action. And I think when it’s, when it’s embedded with action, that we can do something together. Then, then I think hope takes on this kind of new meaning where it’s like, okay, I’m hoping for change, but I am making that change. I am the change, right? As we say, we want to be the change we see in the world, but the reality is being that changed and then inspiring the change within others. And I think that’s been one of the things that we’ve seen as one of the greatest cognitive and developmental shifts within our artists is that they believe that they can help their kids make a better life for themselves. Right. And I think that’s been something that’s so fascinating where these artists are able to say, okay, I’ve experienced this very difficult situations. And so of these children, but these children can make a better world. They can make a better life. And I think a lot of these cycles of abuse cycles of trauma cycles of, of challenges, but the only way that they’re changed is if we can actually create something that makes us believe that it can be changed. And I think what that takes is, is being able to say, wow, we made a mural that, that was possible. We did this by ourselves, right? And I think that’s one thing for us within the leadership roles. We’re there an analogy that I, that, that I’d love to think of is this idea that we’re planting seeds and, and even though the seed is actually the same around the world, that the seed, the tree that will grow to a small tree, each tree will turn into a different forest, but that the forest in each of the different regions is totally different. Right? What the trees look like in South Sudan, you know, on the border of South Sudan and Uganda and what they, and what they look like in, in Bangladesh or in Colombia is different. And I think the idea that in the end, it’s all about how forests can then create their own sense of change. And so, so when you’re talking about hope, I totally agree. I think it’s embedded with action, that action and hope had this kind of seesawing, the fact that, that that’s like a pendulum that goes back and forth. So yes, I totally agree with that.

Brad:
Yeah. And I, and, and it goes right back to what you said earlier, which, which was, you know, the goal isn’t for you to keep going back there. The goal is for them to take that message and keep paying it forward, keep passing that message, message through the next generation. So your analogy of, of using, you know, kind of like planting the seeds of change is a really, really, really strong analogy and real impactful way of how you really make a lasting change. So I love the way that you brought that up.

Ashley:
Yes. And I just, I just my two sense too. I’m just thinking I’ve always been drawn to being creative and class was always one of my favorite classes. So even now, especially during everything going on in the world, I draw a lot. I like to paint. I do all of that, writing. Um, but I think in school systems too, the opportunity is that the teachers have to present that conversation to the students and preface it that way, how their creativity can and be a calming thing and piece and bring change and how far that they can take that influence in their personal lives. And as they grow, because somewhere along the line, as you become adults, that that class goes away, but the creativity never dies. You always, everybody has some sense of creativity in them. It’s just, how do you get that out? So I feel like if that conversation would pressed harder, even to the youth in our country and just abroad like you guys are doing, like adults need to hear that message, because I strongly believe that there’s so much power behind art and expression, and it doesn’t always have to be speaking to a group or being an influencer or something along those lines. You could have very extremely powerful messages through your creative outlet. So I feel like that message really needs to be hit home too, so that when they grow, they keep that with them. Because like I said, the art classes go away, but the intention behind why they’re so important, doesn’t.

Artolution child muralDr. Max:
Completely. And, and, and I, and what I’ve found is, is there’s a lot of research that right now is saying that being able to have creativity, especially as a child and adolescent, as an important part of your life helps with problem solving skills and hops. It helps with the ability to be, to be able to grow. And, and, you know, we did an amazing program here in the States where we worked with, um, the LGBTQ community and then with a group of kids who had autism and special needs. And they had the first time of them being able to meet and start working together themselves. And what was so amazing, that was equally as fascinating, was watching their teachers, watch the kids interact for the first time together and having the parents being able to watch the kids interact. And what we found is that being able to have the arts be a way that parents can connect to their kids, the grandparents can connect to their kids. That, that it’s something that actually creates an equitable platform for people of all different experience bases to all come together. And what’s been so interesting is that, you know, whether it be, you know, for example, an accountant, I think about our, uh, our accountant that connected us with you. What’s been so amazing is our conversations with him that, that, that whether it be, you know, a tax return, you know, for our organization, etc., for him, he’s part of something creative and he’s able to use his skills, but what’s really, we found so fascinating is that, is that by being part of our Lucian and the work that we’re doing, that it’s actually made it. So he’s connected to that one little girl in, you know, here on the border of South Sudan, you know, or that little girl in Newark, who is in a Syrian camps and, and, and being able to use our platform as a way to build bridges, right, between things that seem so different. Our, our, our law firm or our governance structure within our board, or, you know, our, our, our different, uh, partnerships with international institutions. We really believe that we have to find ways of them being connected to the people who are on the ground. You know, people who are living in, you know, in, in these environments and have been through these experiences. And the reality is, is that what can they all relate to? They can all relate to the arts. They can all relate to music. They can all relate to, to creativity. So, so, you know, whether we’re in the top of the, you know, the U S having a, with you at HDR, or whether we’re sitting in a, you know, a mud hut, having a beautiful conversation at a dinner together, you know, the reality is, is it’s actually all in the same spectrum, which is that people can get on board with what we’re doing, because they believe that they’re part of something meaningful and something meaningful is saying, you know, we need to create a community and a society that’s based on care for each other. And how do we show care? We show care by being able to listen by being able to speak and have real dialogue. And in many cases where language is a barrier culture is a barrier, you know, their socioeconomic barriers, what can transcend those barriers. And I think we’re seeing right now in history, especially with such social isolation and with COVID, that the arts are able to transcend those barriers. And so that’s one of the reasons I really believe that it is an evolution of the arts and you’re right, that it’s needed maybe now more than ever. And, and, and, and, and I, and I did want to add one other kind of small limit to this, which is that, you know, one of the things that I think so much of the time when we imagine people, you know, there’s, there’s about 80 million refugees in the world right now of displaced people, right? I mean, that’s like an uncomprehensible number. That’s a number that is, is, is almost unfathomable to imagine it. Right. And, and, and, you know, there are numbers that we can give that just seem impossible. For example, the fact that in Bangladesh, it’s the same population, uh, as, as, as, uh, it’s right. Under 200 million people and a size in a country that says New York state, right. And then within that, there were Hindu refugee camps has about 750,000 people in one section of the camp by 11 kilometers by 11 kilometers. I mean, I mean, you’re dealing with extremely high rates of people, and that’s very hard to imagine. And so a lot of what we’re trying to do is try to humanize these stories through that one person, right through that one girl, that one boy, and really realizing that, that, that they’re going through a lot of the same things that we’re going through in a place like America, or a place like Canada or Europe. And the reality is, is it’s how do we, how do we find ways of making it not something where, Oh, they’re another refugee, but rather saying they’re a beautiful and inspiring person, like the story of Dildar. And that’s what we’ve been working towards. I think for many years, and will continue to work towards every day is being able to humanize people. Because I think we’re at a time that there’s so much dehumanization around the world and in this country, we need to find ways to humanize. And I think the arts are such a powerful tool, especially because so much of the time when there’s crisis, the first things to get cut are the arts. And what we believe is that during, during times of crisis, during times of emergency, actually arts need to be at the forefront of the response they need to be used, right? Alongside public health care, mental health care. You know, that that’s something that we’re starting to starting to realize that there’s, there are really important, um, combinations and cooperations that are needed to make that a reality.

Brad:
There is no question about that. And, and, and I think that the message that is, is, needs to be heard by everybody. And everybody, if everybody adopted this tomorrow, the world would be a better place. And that’s that’s, as you said, it’s humanizing issues. And it’s really understanding that we’re all in this earth, like, yeah, you know, I’m not an American and you’re not a Syrian, it’s, we’re all human beings on this earth. We’re all part of the same, you know, oxygen that we all breathe. And, and, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s, it’s crazy to think about, but in, in a time of social media, I feel like we lose so much humanization of things because we’re behind a computer we’re not in front of them. And, and that’s, I mean, to me, that’s going to be, it’s the one thing that keeps me up at night about my children is that we’re losing a human aspect by being so focused on social media. Now, when everybody’s isolated in their homes. And that if you start losing, you start separating from reality, at least I do, maybe I’m crazy, but I started separating from reality a little bit and it, it, it, that’s the thing that keeps me up at night. And so, you know, that that message you have is, is very well taken.

Dr. Max:
I personally, I think, I think we are all working through that every single day. And what we’re finding is that, you know, social media is a tool, right? It, whether it’s, it has positive or negative feelings, it can be both, you know, and I think what we’re finding is that, you know, for artists, what gives them interest to be enough, like real helpable kids will meaning is being able to have these WhatsApp groups that we’re in contact, where every morning we’ll wake up and there’ll be, you know, 50 messages of all the drawings and the paintings that they’ve made, all the audio recordings, the videos that they’ve made, different songs, that they’ve folkloric songs that they’ve written to be able to teach about public health messages. You know, so technology can be a way to connect, but it can also be something that I think has to be, you know, it has to be incorporated in a healthy way. And I think what that means is, is very different across different spectrums and different ideas of what, of what, um, of what communication is in this era. And what we found is that, you know, we found that technology can be a really positive way to connect with others. Um, at the same time we have to continuously remind ourselves, how do we get their stories to the forefront? How can we use this tool to have people who maybe have never had that opportunity to tell their story and to make it something important? I don’t know. Stephanie, what do you think about that? About being able to use communication to humanize rather than to, to create these bubbles? I don’t know. What do you think about that?

Stephanie:
Well absolutely, I think, you know, it’s funny, especially from an art dilution standpoint, our initial goal in our initial drive was really, but then once we plant the seeds, once the communication is starting to grow into many forests, which currently we have Columbia Jordan and even other places in the world, but it just isn’t prominent. Cause we can’t have regular funding there, but what happens is then our dilution also has to become the platform That amplifies these voices. Right? So, you know, we, we start to discover that we have other responsibilities as the leadership or as the organization to make sure that their stories are heard, that the humanization actually happened. Um, so you know, a big part of my job, what I kind of wake up to every day is I gotta make sure that these stories, these narratives are really shared to people like you were eyes who might be sitting comfortably at home, you know, with all our resources and all of our, you know, for lack of a better term privileges. Right. Um, and, and not to, not to honestly, you know, make anyone feel bad about it. It’s more about just connecting ourselves, you know, connecting each other to other people who want the same things we do, right. Who was loved the freedom to create art, to have a career in art, to have a career in accounting, it doesn’t matter. Right. But, um, the idea that they get this freedom and, and connect and what we find at least from a social media perspective, and I’m very entrenched in that world is that we do, we find new people every single day that are connected to a specific story. And, and that story then allows them to say, Oh, I really want to continue learning more about Artolution. How do I go to events? How do I support the artist’s livelihood? How do I do these different things? And that’s, that’s amazing. That’s the point? That’s the reason or recently, um, one of our artists in that live conversation Wasa said that, um, she’s one of our Syrian refugee artists. She said that when she works with the kids in her community, they really have this moment sometimes when we share with them that their particular artwork or the mural that they’ve worked on is now being shown to thousands of people on social media. And we share some times the comments and kind of the reactions that people have to their work and the kids will say to them, Oh my gosh, I never thought someone from over there would acknowledge my work and Sam a great artists, or say that, you know, and what we’ve realized is they like anyone. They just want to be seen, they want to be heard. And, um, it’s really beautiful to make those connections and know, Max has done so many, not only virtual changes, but physical exchanges of canvas heroes to different countries. You know, he takes it when he’s in Brazil when he flies to Bangladesh, she takes the same girl and have people collaborate on the same year all together. I think that’s, yeah.

Dr. Max:
I, I will say just to touch on that for a second. So, so, so those murals that Stephanie is talking about have been this fascinating experience where we’ve actually been able to take canvases as well as even, you know, bark cloth, for example, that was woven by some of the women we work with in the South Sudanese camps and bring it to actually four different refugee camps over the span of two years, where then we’re then kids from around the world are able to have a conversation through painting. And one of the things we found to be one of the most exciting parts of our entire work is that right. When we started working in the community and start working with a group of artists, we have, we have a big stack of laminated photos of kids from other parts of the world. And so they also have this idea that I need to be in this small community and I’ve never left or I’m in a refugee camp. And I may have never been a may not even allowed to leave, but I’m able to see kids at these other parts of the world and be able to say, well, I’m now connected to kids who I, who I didn’t even know existed, you know? And then, and then all of a sudden there starts to be this idea of, wow, are they really so different than me? Well, are they, you know, maybe, maybe we can, we can connect together. And then we’ve done these digital exchanges where they’ve been able to meet via video. They’ve been able to meet, um, uh, online. And what we found is people, you know, they, you know, asking very, very human questions. What kind of food do you eat everyday? You know, Oh, why aren’t you sharing, you know, that, that, that cloth, you know, um, uh, specifically, or, or, or whatever the questions are. And what we found is is that, that that’s a huge part of our work is that we’re not just working in different areas, but that they all understand they’re part of a much larger movement. And then it is best for them in the work, in a totally new way. Cause it, cause it invest them in realizing they’re part of something that has so many different implications to it that, that, that the kids like, like, like Waka was saying, say, wow, my work is going to be seen by somebody in America. My work is going to be seen by somebody in India or Bangladesh or in, or in Colombia or Brazil. What does that mean? What is it, you know, and then, and then, Oh man, that makes me care so much more about my own story. And that’s the cycle that th th th th that we’re looking to create is this feeling like, okay, I can make a difference in the lives of others. So I want to be able to tell my story in a way that makes people care about me, but also makes me care about myself. You know, that that’s the balance that we’re really looking to stimulate into, to grow within the lives of these kids and youth around the world, especially in this time, especially at stuff.

Brad:
So how do we, as the public help with that, you know, thinking about making a difference, making an action, you know, what, what, what, what, how can people help you? Right. Cause you’re doing this work you’re on the ground, literally on the ground and figuratively on the ground. How do we help?

Dr. Max:
I love that question. And as I’ve mentioned before, you know, hope has to be embedded with action. And, and especially here, you know, what are the ways that we can be connected? So there are three primary ways that, um, that, that people can get homeless. Uh, the first is, you know, please share our stories, um, help raise awareness about our work. Um, you know, you know, follow us on the different social media platforms, but also just be able to, to know about this, to be able to know about our refugee artists in itself, talking to your families about it is something that’s really valuable. Um, the second way is for us, we, we are a very small non-for-profit we’re looking to grow. And so we do need donations. Um, so any kind of donations are hugely appreciative, um, and they’re able to have it so that our artists are able to continue their work. And also one of the things in this era of technology, you know, those who can afford to donate, being able to host a fundraiser on social media is something that’s just as important to go fund me, etcetera, that that’s something that’s been hugely influential to artists. That’s been life changing actually for a lot of our teens. So being able to have that way of activating, um, one’s own community and being able to spread communities to care and, and grow our network is hugely important. And the third is, is, is being able to recommend to any partners or organizations or individuals who might be interested in our work. So for us, all of our work is based on relationship building, you know, everything we do, there’s nothing that is more valuable in the world than relationships. Relationships are the foundation of our work. And for me as the executive director of Artolution, that’s the foundation, that’s the most valuable currency in the world. And so we’re looking to build relationships with new corporations, with organizations, with foundations, institutions who believe in the idea that the arts can be the next phase in the history of education in emergencies and, and in response to global crises like the global pandemic right now. So, so any, any institutions that would be interested in this, we would love the opportunity to be able to connect with and build relationships with. So those would be the three ways that, that, that, that people can take action. Um, and please feel free to be in contact at info@artolution.org. Um, and additionally, to be able to see our work at www.artolution.org. And, and just to remember it, you know, we really believe it’s an evolution in the history of the arts, the idea that it can be hopefully a resolution to some of the world’s problems and, and a solution to some of the challenges we’re facing and maybe a revolution in what we think that the arts can accomplish. So it’s an artolution, by bringing all that together and exploding into hopefully a colorful, uh, explosion of meaning. And, um, and that orb of light that we’re trying to grow around the world is something that we believe anybody and everybody should be a part of.

Brad:
Yeah. And, and, uh, well said, I mean, you know, you have great ways to connect with the, a great that, you know, you Can continue to do the work you do. I appreciate you sharing that. And I really appreciate your time max and Stephanie, and just sharing your thoughts. I mean, um, we’ve had probably a couple of calls now, and, and I think, um, I’ve learned so much about issues that I did not know of, uh, to the level that you’ve just explained them. And I think it really calls to light some of the, some of the role that we, uh, in our, in our world that we live in have to play in the bigger, the bigger picture, the bigger world that we live in. And, um, sometimes that gets discounted by some of the other crazy things going on. But, um, I appreciate you sharing that and I don’t want everyone to lose sight of that. You know, it’s very important what you’re doing. So any, any final thoughts from you Max or Stephanie that you want to share?

Dr. Max:
So, uh, so I did have one kind of thought is, you know, from our perspective, people of all different kinds, whether it be, you know, an accountant or a lawyer, right. Is that, is that what we’ve started to realize is that this is something that, that has, um, extrapolations that can affect people of all different kinds. And some of the most meaningful relationships you’ve had are about things that we don’t know about. Right. And what, and, and, and you can’t learn something that, you know what you’re going to learn. You need to learn stuff you don’t know. Right. And what we found is that learning how to grow relationships, learning how to grow, meaning within our lives is something that as time is continuing to go on. And especially in this state, we’re working every day to find ways of connecting, to find new ways of connecting. And this is something that we’ve been, we’ve been doing now, I’ve been doing this work for about 12 years. Um, but we’ve been doing this as our solution for about three almost four years. And, and every day is like a lifetime. And as time has, is continuing to, to, to, to go on and especially within this state, um, we’re, we’re looking to connect with new ways of knowing new ways of being able to know ourselves. And so what I would just kind of, as a final note, if I can say it is that, is that how can we do justice into the lives of folks who we’d never met before? Right. And for me, I feel very lucky that I’ve gotten to spend a lot of time with some environments, you know, being able to plant, you know, quote unquote, plant these seeds. God, I will say that it’s just, I have learned more from these, from some of these people that I could ever imagine. I feel like it’s our responsibility, especially for, for people here within the United States and places, we have access to resources and access to be able to make a difference, um, to find, to find new ways to make that difference. And, and I would hope that, that in this era, um, that, that people can both connect to us, but also to think about how can we create new systems? How can we change the systems that exist? Because we’re in a time of transition, the whole world is in a time of transition. And I, and I really do believe that, um, that, that through Artolution, this is one of the many ways that’s needed, but we believe it’s something that’s needed right now in an urgent, urgent way, which is the, the, the, the artist connection and the art of connecting, connecting others. And, and I would just say that, um, it’s, it’s an honor to talk to you and to hear that, you know, how much you care about our work is really meaningful. So we, we, we, we really hope to maintain the contact with you and, and, uh, anybody who listens to this.

Stephanie:
Oh, I’ll add ’em to that. Um, cause that was beautiful. Um, I think that, um, I would say that for anyone listening in anyone, you know, that just comes in contract with Artolution. What we meant, what we said in terms of planting the seed. And they think that every small interaction matters. And I think in this time, especially in crisis where people feel that they’re helpless and they can’t possibly fix the larger issues that we’re all battling with on a global scale, um, you do have the power to create even a small amount of change. And it may not seem like you can, but even helping those that are closest to you look at something differently, change perspective, you know, engage creatively really starts to have a ripple effect amongst their circles. So if we could leave anything with anyone, you know, you see the proof of it in our work. Um, so I think that that’s something that I think, you know, with this wonderful conversation. So thank you for posting it. Um, it’s something that I feel like really stood out to me is, you know, down to a very young child, they can inspire you to create a lot of change and that’s important.

Dr. Max:
And there’s one quote that I would love to share that that embodies what Stephanie just said that I think is kind of embodies all of our work. Yeah. Which is that, “In a sea of pain, it, every day it is worth fighting for a droplet of hope. And that one droplet of healing that one droplet of good is what creates ripples and those ripples are what make it change that can grow every day.” And that idea, I think, is the core of what we’re fighting for. It’s a core of what we’re looking for every single day. That even if it seems like insurmountable the sea of pain, that one droplet appealing that one droplet of paint drop it of color. That is what, what, in some ways the meaning of of care is meaning of caring for each other. So, um, we would love for you to be part of our droplets of healing right now.

Brad:
Thank you for that. And I, I, yeah, couldn’t, couldn’t relate into or agree with you more on that aspect that you go through so much nonsense and heartache and things, and that you make one, or you do one good thing. Um, I see this in the fire service that I participate in and it’s, you know, you do one thing, you know, all the other bullshit you deal with and you do one, you know, one thing happens, you help one person, all this stuff just goes away that, that you were worried about or thinking about. And you’re like, I did make a difference and whether I did, or some of our team did it, it doesn’t matter. It’s we know that as an organization or as a group, we helped someone else change their position or change their circumstances. And it makes all the difference. And it just, it adds this layer of joy to you that you can’t, you can’t quantify. So I appreciate that so much.

Ashley:
Yeah. What you guys are doing is realigning. What’s really most important. It’s kind of bringing to the surface. What’s important to be focusing on and it’s connecting everybody strip away everything else. And we’re all people at the end of the day who, like you said, want the same stuff. So that’s great.

Brad:
Yeah. Awesome. Alright. Well, thanks so much for your time.

Brad:
Hey warriors. Thanks for tuning in. Make sure to subscribe to Civic Warriors and thanks for all your support. Have a great day.

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