Combining cultural theory/ sociology with art (my academic background) was always about emphasizing the social in creativity. Art isn't made in isolation. It resonates. It has ripples of vibration, like Deleuze and Guattari say, like a pebble dropped in water, and these vibrations make it social, make it impactful and effective and this effect is oh so key to how we value and apply art.
Beyond commodity and aesthetics, art can change the world. It humanizes people, it breaks boundaries, it connects us, it levels the playing field. Art gives us a place to be eccentric and twisted so we can channel the right energy in the right places. It mobilizes our humanity. And in an increasingly restless world, we need it more and more.
Years ago I had worked with ArtStarts and Arts for Children of Toronto to worth with youth in challenged situations (eg. refugees, fosters, low income neighbourhoods, etc.) to bring art and creativity to situations where it wasn't readily available. When funding to institutions is cut, art is usually the first to go. But art is so important for children. That innate, untarnished way of thinking that will help them retain individuality through their lives; have confidence, and many more qualities that we really do need to survive.
I've always been an anxious little girl who didn't really know how to fit in. But I've always had art. And in that at least part of me has always known who I am and what I'm about.
The last year has been quite self indulgent. Opportunities and self promotion. It's got to be done to survive sometimes. So the Scribble Foundation presented a perfect balancing opportunity. To give something back, to use the skills I've been blessed with to nurture all these things I value so greatly in children who rightfully deserve to have it.
Scribble Foundation is an organization in India founded by Alisha Aranha. I've kept up with their work for the last year hoping to find a window of time to head over and help out where I can. They've been going to underfunded schools around India to run workshops and paint murals in classrooms with the help of a number of artists. Such a heartfelt gesture that is proving highly effective.
Dharamashala was the window. I didn't know much about the north at all but I knew this was how I wanted to end a rather challenging year.
It has to be said that the energy of this group of people was immense. Warm and open hearted. Kind and jovial. The values I've come to love about my Indian roots. The backdrop was a bonus. How beautiful was Dharamshala. With a constant mountain wall paper background that warms your heart and clears your lungs every morning. Fresh air. In every way possible.
The school was small in some ways and in other ways huge. Approaching it meant walking up to an open field where kids were sat in groups having their classes outside and dogs and goats passed through freely. On the plot of land were 3 small buildings with 2 offices, a small kitchen and 4 class rooms. That's it. Class rooms whose walls had just been repaired by the Scribble Foundation (part of what they do is provide some long term sustainance)where kids either sat on the ground or on small benches. Where the power came and went and the walls were heavy with the echoes of children's voices. Children with untainted enthusiasm. With not a hint of jealousy or remorse but smiles and shy giggles that stole your heart and made you forget anything that ever hurt it. Not the children we knew who screamed for attention and stuff and more stuff but children who represented pure hope for the world's future.
Our class room was dark. Cold. A steel shutter at the back and heavy steel windows that seemed to keep the cold inside the room. On our first session Alisha, whose presence and way with the kids was just so immense, led them through a session we tried to put together. Just a warm up to get the juices flowing so the kids were thinking creative more than trying to do it with their rulers and erasers. I loved that they couldn't always explain what they had drawn but it was something that had come from somewhere. That's very me.
We decided to settle on environments. It represented out journey to them, our discovery of their environment, their understanding of other environments and an encouragement of a sense of curiosity and exploration they should have. We talked about the desert and the mountains, the rainforest and the oceans, and the big city life with towering buildings they said they didn't care for. Understandably! Our brainstorming session was about drawing together. About creating an environment as a group and I think my boxes were ticked when the kids were asked what they had learnt that day and they said "how to work together!". Amazing.
Painting with kids is always challenging. On one hand you're thinking about the outcome. You want good solid work that makes you being there worthwhile. On the otherhand you want them to experience the thrill of painting you've come to love. A two day painting mission saw the classroom grow increasingly warmer, more colourful, more informative. The strokes weren't perfect, they weren't meant to be. It was the language of art. Of concentration and excitement. Of oohs and ahs at finished creatures they dragged their friends in to see.
What these projects do is give ownership and belonging to children who have big hearts and tangible nothings. It gives them a tool to have the potential to break trends and be somebody. It gives them a channel to imaginate and portray the treasures of their minds. It gives them a place that is theirs to grow and dream. Art is a verb, not a noun. And with that verb tucked in their back pockets, who knows what they'll go on to be.
In two days we didn't just make a classroom look different. We changed the colours of our own hearts. Of the energy between us and these kids. And I'd like to hope in a very little but signficant way we put some colour back in a world that needs it.