Wednesday, July 20, 2016

PPR Women and Children Group Explores Healing Through Mural

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Full view of the classroom-size tape-art mural, which dealt with themes of healing and safety.

Lead Teaching Artist - Jeane Cohen
Assistant Teaching Artist - Mimi Scalia
Volunteer - Hayley Stricker

Tape Art - Safety Theme
The families class at NSC is doing a curriculum on safety The purpose of the activity this class was to foster participants’ awareness of their own ability to rise up in the face of instability and make change. Participants were prompted to use tape as a tool to draw a temporary mural. Staff set the stage of the mural by drawing on the wall with painter's tape, drawing a storm with clouds, lightning and rain. Participants were prompted to draw images of items, people and scenarios that they wanted to keep safe and protected in their life and in the box of safety, under the storm on the wall. The instructors then metaphorically “exposed” the things in the safety box by removing the tape barrier between the storm and the box. Participants then taped onto the mural ways of staying safe in the storm. They depicted umbrellas, shelters, and windshield wipers. They then taped on those “ways of staying safe” between the storm clouds and the box of safety. In closing participants reflected on their ability to make change and be resilient in the face of uncontrollable circumstances.

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The mural depicted scenes from nature

In a previous and similar activity, we made a healing garden out of tape. Participants were asked to plant seeds in the ground of the garden by drawing them with tape. They were then prompted to add sprouts to the seeds and so on until the seeds grew into trees, flowers, and vegetables. Participants were also able to contribute to the garden by caring for the garden itself, by making sure it had water and sunlight.

Tape Art - Healing ThemeI learned about making art out of tape when I worked on a few projects with a group called Tape Art in Providence RI. Using tape is great for community engagement because there are many different ways to draw and create with tape, and no predetermined expectation. Its flexibility makes it a great therapeutic medium to work with.
- Jeane Cohen

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A detail of the tape mural including a watering can for the garden

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Refugee Project Celebrates World Refugee Day at City Hall

On Saturday, July 9 volunteers from BuildaBridge led creative arts activities at Nationalities Service Center's World Refugee Day 2016 celebration. The event took place in the courtyard of Philadelphia Hall. The event was attended by many from the public as well as several familiar faces from our PPR and PRMHC classes.

Visual artist Arielle led an arts activity where visitors were encouraged to create "prayer flags." Prayer flags originate in Eastern cultures, and were originally used to promote compassion, wisdom, peace and strength (Wikipedia). It is believed that each one's message of goodwill will spread to the space around them. Each visitor was asked to use paint, glitter, glue, and sequins to create a flag representing "What does HOME look like to you?" Among the flags were images of hearts, smiles, and the word "love." We at Refugee Project think that the idea of home being "love" is an especially great example of how "home" can be wherever you make it if it starts inside of you!

Later in the day, BuildaBridge artists Liz, Amy and Arielle led a drum circle and invited visitors to come on stage and join in. Drum circles are an improvisational form of music-making used to bring communities together. Adults and children from all different backgrounds came together to make a harmonious beat. Some were even inspired to dance to the powerful music!

BuidaBridge would like to thank everyone at Nationalities Service Center and our creative volunteers for making this day a success. We hope to see everyone at this celebration again next year!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Spring Term Updates

As we move into May and warm weather finally arrives, both our PRMHC and PPR programs have been progressing. At Southeast by Southeast, Burmese Karen refugees have been using ceramics to explore ideas of support. The children created unique plates, cups, bowls and boxes using a variety of clay techniques. The items will be donated to newly-arrived refugee families in need to support them in their transition to Philadelphia.

Burmese Karen children paint designs in glaze onto clay plates they made

The Iraqi group in Northeast Philadelphia evolved to include Sudanese refugees as well. Parents and children in that group have been learning how to make colorful mosaics from broken pieces of ceramics. They are exploring the concept of identity, including their identities of their native countries as well as newly-formed identities in the United States.

The Iraqi/Sudanese group learned how to make mosaics using many different tools

At Nationalities Service Center, our Mixed Adult group is using music and art to explore themes of improvisation in art and in life. They are learning various musical beats and instruments as well as the technique of applique while exploring these themes. The Parents and Children’s group has been using visual art to explore the concepts of home and community, and has been working on a different project each week to work towards building a sense of community within the group.

Stay tuned as the Refugee Project gears up for our summer programming!

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Fall Term Highlights!

The Refugee Project provided therapeutic arts and art therapy programming for 148 refugees and immigrants since October 2015.  With the PRMHC, this included groups serving Iraqi women and children, Burmese Chin and Burmese Karen refugees.  The seven week Iraqi group created tapestries at individual, familial and generational levels which 1) enhanced social support and promoted social engagement; 2) nourished a sense of pride and respect for one’s identity; and 3) connected language to meaning in the context of family and community. 
Hope Mead demonstrates painting ceramics

BuildaBridge artists used ceramics, music and visual arts in a seven week term with the Burmese Chin and Burmese Karen groups to encourage individual creative expression while learning social skills of working together, turning mistakes into opportunities and academic skills that met the Pennsylvania Academic Standards for the Arts and Humanities.  Natalie Hoffmann led the project at Southwark School, creating a mural with nearly 20 students to illustrate the diversity of the school. Final touches are happening soon so stay tuned!

Southwark School mural in process

With PPR, the Fall 2015 ten week term served adult and children refugees from eleven countries all of whom were first and secondary survivors of torture.  Artists used drama, movement and the visual arts to create self-portraits of their emotions, explore themes of travel and home as it related to their journeys to Philadelphia and the metaphor of water for movement, flexibility and change. See 'Boat Full of Emotions' for details.

Spring Classes are coming soon!


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Art-Making builds Resilience

BuildaBridge features artists Hope Mead and Robert Kelleher in this video illustrating how art-making has made a difference this semester.  Groups this semester took place at the Philadelphia Refugee Mental Health Collaborative's (PRMHC) new storefront site in South Philadelphia, Southeast by Southeast.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Boat Full of Emotions

The PPR (Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience) Families and Children’s group reflects on the mural that they have been working on for the past several weeks.  PPR is a collaborative between BuildaBridge, Nationalities Service Center (NSC) and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIASPA) providing services and programs to survivors of torture. The weeks’ themes have been “travel” and “home”, two issues of concern for all refugees. They reflected on what could be in the conversation bubbles next to each of the people.  The figures in the boat were made by tracing each of the group members’ silhouettes, and the stars that reflect light to the waves in the ocean were made by participants tracing their hands.
Jeane Cohen (Lead Artist), Mimi Scalia (Assistant Teaching Artist) and Hayley Strickler (Volunteer) led the workshops.  Each workshop examined a topical aspect of self reflection, identifying barriers, tools, and skills for resilience related to that aspect. For example, the topics addressed were:
  • Language as a platform for self-expression
  • Emotion based Self Portraits
  • A boat as a metaphoric safety container
  • Generated maps as a tool for understanding that home as place can be flexible and what you make it
  • A sail to learn how to be aware and in control of self directed activities
  • Water and the ocean as a metaphor for movement and change
  • Created stars of people who are important to us to remember that they are watching out for us
The artwork made during each workshop served as a component for a small-scale mural, or wall hanging collage. All of the components were created individually and then combined together for the final class to reflect the interconnectedness of the different components of healing and resources explored. They then provided a strong and lasting image of the process of resilience.
The final image included figures of emotion, speaking created languages in a boat of safety with a sail of direction, traveling on the ocean, at night time with a map in the sky and stars of guidance.
The final piece is 10 feet x 10 feet.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"We Iraqis have long stories"

"We Iraqis have long stories" said a participant in BuildaBridge's therapeutic arts group for Iraqi families living in Northeast Philadelphia.  This group, comprised of Iraqi mothers and children who have lived in the U.S. for over three years, will be focusing their efforts this Fall on telling their stories through a group made tapestry.  Operationally, a tapestry is a single composition which is comprised of many threads. Conceptually, a tapestry displays a meaningful moment in time that is a symbol and a distillation of many smaller experiences and moments. In addition, many people with unique lives and backgrounds come together to form one community.  The group will keep this metaphor - the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, at the forefront of their art experiences to create the piece.  Since October, 28 participants have attended three groups.  Over the next few weeks, participants and BuildaBridge artists will create story-based pieces about their families, their generation, and then their group/community histories. 

Also during this Fall term BuildaBridge is providing the Burmese Chin and Burmese Karen communities therapeutic arts groups in South Philadelphia.  BuildaBridge's efforts with the Bhutanese children have phased out as many of them are feeling more socially connected after living in Philadelphia for over four years now.  BuildaBridge has thus re-focused efforts on the Burmese communities who are still arriving in relatively high numbers to the Philadelphia region.  These groups have served 32 participants so far this Fall.

Another new project was launched at Southwark School in South Philadelphia.  This school has a wide diversity of students from over 10 countries including many of the Bhutanese and Burmese refugees with whom BuildaBridge works.  Southwark invited BuildaBridge to create a mural that represents the diversity of their students and to use the school's main quote "We honor the greatness in you."  See the mural in process below and stay tuned for more Fall program updates!