Art for Darfur Raises Funds, Awareness

April 19, 2010 by · Comments Off 

Dallas area elementary school students made shadow boxes to auction off at the Art for Darfur event. (Photo by Elizabeth Lowe/ SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

Dallas area elementary school students made shadow boxes to auction off at the Art for Darfur event. (Photo by Elizabeth Lowe/ SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

By Elizabeth Lowe and Anthony Sowe
elowe@smu.edu, asowe@smu.edu

Imagine if you can, being a woman, waking up every morning not knowing if you or your children will survive the day, facing sexual and physical assault and watching your husband die. Then imagine watching your son die or get shipped off to become a solider by the same people who are killing your family. If you are lucky enough to still have any of your children, you have to watch them die of disease or malnutrition. This is what life is like day after day for many of the women of Darfur.

SMU, however, is trying to help the people, especially the women, of Darfur through art. SMU hosted the 4th Annual Art For Darfur auction in the Owens Arts Center Saturday evening. Guests were invited to “spend liberally and spend with their hearts” as artwork lined the walls and drumbeats filled the air of the Taubman Atrium.

This year’s event presented a unique gallery of artwork as part of a multi-tiered, non-profit collaboration between Art For Darfur, Today Marks the Beginning, fifth-grade students, and the Darfur Peace and Development Organization. Students from L.L. Hotchkiss Elementary School and Charles Rice Learning Center were the artists behind the bidding pieces this year – many of whom have experienced life in war-torn countries and refugee camps.

Involving Activists

Students were asked to build their artwork with the idea “If I Were A Peacemaker…” after learning about various peacemakers and civil rights activists throughout history and after hearing from local activist Paulette Cooper.

Paulette Cooper, along with her husband Bob, traveled to Darfur to photograph the people of Darfur in hopes of bringing the issue of mass genocide to light.

“This is our holocaust of our time,” said Cooper.

After trying to get big non-profit organizations interested in the problem in Darfur, she moved to small organizations such as the Darfur Peace and Development Organization, a Washington, D.C. based relief group started by Darfurians in the U.S. and directed by Susan Burgess Lent.

Lent joined the organization in 2002 and along with other Darfurians living in America, started to help other Americans see what exactly was going on in Darfur. As a result, DPDO has opened 42 schools and Lent operates a women’s center. The center helps the women of Darfur find jobs, homes and helps them cope with the trauma.

“The women are so accepting of any input,” Lent said. “When trauma continually builds, you start to accept help.”

Getting the Kids Involved

Art for Darfur teamed up with Big Thought, a Dallas creative learning initiative, and Today Marks the Beginning, a non-profit arts program preaching non-violence, to involve local students in the art auction for Darfur.

“It all started with Big Thought to get the human rights curriculum into the elementary schools,” explained Kristin Schutz, co-founder of Art of Darfur and former SMU student. “From there, Today Marks the Beginning started the art projects in the two elementary schools.”

Art patrons, humanitarians, activists and students from throughout the Dallas area experienced ideas of peace through the eyes of children. The students’ shadow boxes were placed alongside professional and student artwork. For many, this brought an interesting contrast to the art gallery.

“This (the kids’ artwork) was really a great idea – especially with this event,” said patron and auction participant Kristin Moore. “It really made it more personal.”

Charlene Chen, assistant program manager of the art programs in the two elementary schools, explained where the children came from and why their art is so special.

“For many of these kids, it’s a very personal matter. Many have been displaced from their countries of origin and know what life may be like in Darfur,” she said. “This art project gave them the opportunity to help kids in similar positions; creativity is a powerful way to heal.”

A majority of students created scenes of schools, which to them would bring peace to the war-torn, genocide-ridden. The shadow box displays were overwhelmingly covered with cardboard cutouts of school desks, alphabet letters, schoolhouses, and textbooks. Chen explains that to many of the student artists, school is a joy and blessing in the U.S. – something they went without during their experiences as refugees.

Together with the fifth-grade student artists and local supporters, Art For Darfur was able to raise more money this year – adding to the $25,000 already raised over the past 3 years – for relief programs in Darfur.

One hundred percent of proceeds from this year’s event go to Darfur Peace and Development Organization. If you would like to learn more about the genocide in Darfur, and how you could help, visit www.DarfurPeace.org.

Two students from L.L. Hotchkiss Elementary School pose in front of their art at the Art for Darfur event. (PHOTO BY ELIZABETH LOWE / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

Two students from L.L. Hotchkiss Elementary School pose in front of their art at the Art for Darfur event. (PHOTO BY ELIZABETH LOWE / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

A potential bidder inspects art work at the fourth annual Art for Darfur. Proceeds from the silent auction support Darfur Peace and Development. (PHOTO BY KAYLA MCKINLEY / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

A potential bidder inspects art work at the fourth annual Art for Darfur. Proceeds from the silent auction support Darfur Peace and Development. (PHOTO BY KAYLA MCKINLEY / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

Prospective bidders discuss a work of art at Friday night's Art for Darfur. Art came from a variety of sources, including fifth graders at Dallas' Hotchkiss Elementary School. (PHOTO BY KAYLA MCKINLEY / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)

Prospective bidders discuss a work of art at Friday night's Art for Darfur. Art came from a variety of sources, including fifth graders at Dallas' Hotchkiss Elementary School. (PHOTO BY KAYLA MCKINLEY / SMU DAILY MUSTANG)