This summer I volunteered for a not- for- profit organization called Art in a Box. Art in a Box partners with people in communities around the world to help those who are facing crisis situations due to war, public health emergencies, natural disasters, or that are disadvantaged by poverty and to assist in recovery and empowerment through art and art education. We delivered art supplies in a portable box to communities on site in and near Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Each art box contained enough art supplies to sustain an ongoing art program and could be utilized almost anywhere.
Specifically I taught children affected by AIDS/HIV. This meant that the children in some of the sites had AIDS while others had parents who were sick with AIDS. The goal of Art in A Box was for us to assist the children in creating art related to their personal stories of survival. Many of the children told me stories about scavenging in garbage in hopes of finding food, something to sell or take home. One girl told me that she and a friend had been kidnapped, thrown into a sack and taken away from their village, but had managed to escape and find help. The children were beautiful, radiant, and full of hope and love but their stories of real life experiences were intense and dark. They painted their stories fervently; some in chunky globs of color, and others in careful precise lines. These images and stories will be collated and printed into a book meant to be sold at tourist venues with the proceeds going to the site.
I believe that these experiences of cultural diversity informed my art through expanding my universe of design, color, and space. I feel, as an educator and an artist, it is important to push myself to go beyond the familiar and experience visual cultures that will awaken new sensibilities in me. I had gained a unique perspective of the artists and people of Southeast Asia. Working directly with both educators and artists from Cambodia produced a whole new lens for me to look through. A lens that I believe broadened my ideas of what art is.