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If you have worked with the Memory Project any time before, you know what an incredible organization they are and what meaningful opportunities they provide for our students. Today, they are announcing a new program! Listen as Tim talks to Nora Feldman about the Global Art Exchange, including discussion on how the project came about, what they hope to accomplish, and how you can get your students to participate. Full episode transcript below.
Tim: Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by The Art of Education University, and I’m your host, Tim Bogatz.
Today, we are going to be talking about The Memory Project. Now, if you’re not familiar with The Memory Project, they are an amazing organization. Their goal is to work with students all over the country to create portraits for orphans all over the world, and when you sign up to participate in the program, you are sent a photo of an orphan. When I did this with my students, I believe our photos came from kids in Costa Rica. Then, you draw or paint or print a portrait of that child, and when those portraits are finished, you mail them back and The Memory Project delivers those portraits to the children. You get to see a video of the portraits being delivered, the joy on the kids’ faces when they see these portraits that have been created for them. It is just a great experience for everyone involved.
Now, I don’t want to get too much into it. I’ll let Nora Feldman, our guest today from The Memory Project, tell you more about what they do because she can do it way better than I can. She’ll also tell you about their new initiative, which everyone will be hearing about for the first time here on the podcast today. I’m really excited about it. The Memory Project is launching a new international art program called The Global Art Exchange, and this program is specific for elementary students.
Now, I like this idea of doing something specific for elementary because, like I said, I’ve done The Memory Project with my own students and it has been a wonderful experience, but doing realistic portraits like that can be intimidating for kids, even my freshman. I can’t imagine what that’s going to be like for young elementary students to try and take that on. I think having something geared toward elementary kids is going to be really worthwhile. They can approach the project with a lot more confidence, their work is going to turn out better, and they’re going to have a more meaningful experience.
Now, before we get to the interview, before I talk to Nora, I do need to tell you again about the Art Ed Now Conference. Just a couple of weeks ago, I’m sure you remember, we announced that the feature presenter for the summer conference will be Ron Clark. Now, if you don’t know Ron Clark, he is a two-time New York Times best-selling author and just a groundbreaking educator doing amazing things with kids. You will absolutely love hearing from him. He’s going to talk about his career in education, tell some stories about founding The Ron Clark Academy, and just his passion for working with kids. It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be inspiration. You really, really want to be there.
You can find out more about the conference and reserve your spot at artednow.com, and a lot of people’s favorite thing, the swag box, the first 2,000 people get a free swag box full of products, samples, test materials to try in their art room, and they always get taken quickly. We always seem to run out, so do not wait to reserve your spot.
Now, it is time for the interview, so let’s go ahead and welcome on Nora Feldman, who has kind of spearheaded The Global Art Exchange Project, and she is ready to share it with everyone here.
Nora Feldman is joining me now from The Memory Project. Nora, how are you?
Nora: I’m great. How are you, Tim?
Tim: I am doing really well. I am excited to talk to you and I’m excited to hear all about the new project that you guys have going on, but before we dive into that, I was hoping you could just kind of tell people a little bit about what you’re doing at The Memory Project. We’ve had Ben on the show before, but for people who didn’t hear that, people who aren’t familiar with The Memory Project, can you just give us kind of a quick introduction about everything that you do?
Nora: Yes, definitely. Thank you. The Memory Project is a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting children around the world through art, and it was created by our Director Ben, whom you mentioned, in 2004. Since then, we have only offered a portrait program where we invite high school art students in the United States to paint and draw portraits of children all over the world who have faced substantial challenges such as violence, war, extreme poverty, neglect, and more.
To date, we have organized the creation and delivery of over 160,000 portraits to children in 47 countries and basically the point of these handmade gifts is to give the children a unique childhood memory and to show them that they’re valued and appreciated by kids living far away.
Tim: That’s really cool, and I talked a little bit in the introduction to the podcast of what I’ve done with The Memory Project with my high school students and what an awesome experience it was. I know that you’re trying to focus a little bit more now on bringing these opportunities to elementary school and middle school students, and rather than just doing the portraits that everybody knows you for and you’ve done for so long, you’re trying to move beyond that. Can you tell us a little bit about The Global Art Exchange I think it’s called? Kind of what it involves and how that serves as I guess a better opportunity for kids who are a little bit younger?
Nora: Yes, definitely. This year, we’re so excited to be able to include elementary and middle school students in this brand new Global Art Exchange program, and in this program, American children will experience a one-to-one exchange of artwork with kids from countries around the world like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, and Syria. Basically, how it works is we match American student with a child from another country around the same are, and then both of those children create a piece of artwork for the other based on themes of peace, friendship, and kindness. On the back, we have both kids include their names, ages, an outline of their hand, and a picture of themselves just to make it more personal. Then, we ship the artwork to both parties and the exchange is complete.
In the past, we attempted to include younger students in our portrait program, but we found that painting an effective portrait takes pretty advanced skill that students usually start to master around high school. The Global Art Exchange, however, is perfectly suited for these younger elementary and middle school students because there really is no right way to create the artwork for the exchange. We offer teachers prompts based on peace, friendship, and kindness, like I said, as a sort of jumping-off point, but students can really draw or paint anything abstract or literal that they want to share with a kid across the world. This flexibility really allows children of all ages to participate as both creators and receivers while offering what I think is an equally amazing if not more meaningful intercultural experience through art.
Tim: That’s really well said, and I was kind of… what I wanted to ask you about next was just kind of the idea behind doing this exchange. You talked a little bit about portraits and needing the necessary type of skill to do that. Was that kind of the impetus to switch over to an exchange? Or is it more about wanting more of the connection rather than just something that’s gifted and delivered? What is your thinking behind that I guess?
Nora: We would love to do the portrait program as an exchange, but unfortunately, it would be almost impossible just because of the amount of coordination it takes to photograph the children, organize, label, distribute those photographs, deliver the portraits, everything like that. We would almost have to install full-time Memory Project members in every country we work with. For this, we’re really excited though with this program to be able to offer it as a one-to-one exchange just because we think that having children from one country create art for children in another like in our portrait program is already incredibly meaningful, but that making it a two-way exchange kind of puts children from both countries on equal footing and is better able to cultivate a connection between the children.
We also think it gives each group of children direct exposure to the other, which we think is so important in facilitating intercultural awareness and understanding.
Tim: That kind of leads me into the next thing that I was curious about, just talking about that cultural awareness and sort of understanding kids from different places from different countries. I know that the exchange that you’re starting out with is taking place with students in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, and Syria I believe. Can you talk just a little bit about decision-making behind that and why you chose those countries in particular?
Nora: Yeah, so we chose countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia, and Syria because we thought it would be an even more impactful experience for all children involved if we facilitated an exchange between the U.S. and countries where the U.S. has experienced political or cultural tension. These are countries that we usually only hear about from headlines, countries with which children here in the United States would probably never make contact otherwise.
We hope that by connecting children from different cultures that are generally seen as hostile towards each other in a heartfelt, personal way, the exchange will help humanize both sides and we hope it will show how there are real, loving, wonderful children living in countries all over the world and that although we live in very different situations, we’re all more alike than not.
Tim: That’s really well said and I think that’s a very worthwhile goal and I think it’s something that both kids and teachers are going to appreciate. Next up, I wanted to kind of talk logistics, though, about I guess how people can get involved. You’re looking for schools to participate in next year, like the 2019-2020 school year, right?
Nora: Yes. I’m sorry.
Tim: No, that’s all right. I just want to make sure we’re clear for everybody who’s listening on that, but if teachers are interested in participating, should they start making plans to do this right away? What does the timeline of the project look like for people who are wanting to participate?
Nora: We are currently looking for elementary and middle school teachers who are interested for the 2019-2020 school year, and right now we are just building an email list of teachers to be in contact with as we continue to organize. Official registration will probably begin in August and continue throughout the year because teachers can participate during any month that works for them. It’s very flexible. Right now, we’re just gathering interest.
Tim: That’s cool, and then, as people are planning, I know there’s a little bit of a cost involved. Can you tell us I guess how much it is for the cost? Then, if that’s something that’s going to be a difficulty for students or for their budget, people who are kind of working without a ton of money, can you talk about how they can still participate I guess?
Nora: Yes, definitely. Thanks. We definitely do want to let teachers know that the cost of participation is $12 per student, so this contribution goes towards the cost of art supplies for children overseas, shipping artwork in both directions, coordinating with teachers here and organizations abroad, as well as many other costs. Our goal is really to include as many young artists as possible regardless of finances. If there are teachers that are interested but concerned that their class or school will not be able to afford the full contribution for any reason, they should definitely let us know and we would love to work something out together.
Tim: Very cool. I know Ben had worked with me before when we were doing portraits and it’s just such a huge relief to know that you don’t have to be restricted your budget and it’s really nice to be able to kind of participate even though you may not think you can originally at first. I guess last question, if teachers want to sign up, they want to get on that email list, they want to eventually participate, should they go to The Memory Project website? Should they get in touch with you? What are next steps for somebody who wants to get started?
Nora: If you are an elementary or middle school teacher who is interested in participating during the 2019-2020 school year, please feel free to email me with your name, school, and teaching grade level at Nora, that’s N-O-R-A, @memoryproject.org, and I will add you to our email list and be in touch with updates as we move forward. In the meantime, if you want more detailed information on the program and how it works, you can go to memoryproject.org/artexchange.
Tim: Perfect, and we’ll make sure we link that for everybody so they can get to that as well. I think we should be good to go. Nora, thank you so much for coming on and telling us about this project. Thank you for starting this project. I think it’s going to be an awesome experience for a lot of kids, and hopefully we will get a lot of people sending your way, so thank you.
Nora: Great. Thank you so much, Tim.
Tim: Well, I think that The Global Art Exchange is going to be a really meaningful project. I love that The Memory Project are expanding what they can do and expanding the opportunities that they are giving our students.
Now, if I can talk just a little bit more about The Memory Project, I just want to say that I’ve always been impressed with what they are doing. As I alluded to in the intro, we’ve had Ben, the Founder of The Memory Project, on the podcast before. We’ve also had him presenting at The Art Ed Now Conference. He just gave an incredibly powerful presentation, but in talking to him, he tells an amazing story about how The Memory Project got started. He was working at an orphanage in Guatemala and taking photos of some of the kids. A man who was working there told Ben how special it would be for those kids to have the picture because he had grown up as an orphan and pictures of him, photos of him, did not exist. This guy did not have anything to remember his childhood. He doesn’t even have any idea of what he looked like as a kid.
That idea kind of stuck with Ben and he was thinking about what he had done as an artist before thinking, “How cool would it be to make portraits for the kids? Can we capture some memories? Can we help give those kids something that they can’t get anywhere else?” Ben starts working with schools, these portraits are being created, and as he delivers these portraits to children all around the world, he realizes that they’re also hoping to build these feelings of international friendship and solidarity. He continues to run with it, so that idea starts gaining some traction. Long story short, The Memory Project grows and grows, continues to grow, and now it is available to everyone.
I guess more than anything, that’s just a long way of me telling you that I really respect everything that The Memory Project does, and I hope more and more students can continue to participate. It is a powerful project for your kids and one that I would encourage you to check out if you can. If you’re teaching high schoolers, even middle schoolers, they can participate in creating those portraits. If you’re teaching elementary, you can be part of The Global Art Exchange that Nora had just talked about. We will set you up with the links in the show notes so you can find everything that you need to know about The Memory Project, about The Global Art Exchange, and hopefully get that going in your classroom.
No matter whether you do the portraits with your students or whether you do The Global Art Exchange, either way, participating in the program is just going to be an incredible experience and for your kids. I love what they always say at The Memory Project. They are creating portraits for a kinder world. I hope your students can be part of it next year.
Art Ed Radio is produced by The Art of Education with audio engineering from Michael Crocker. Thank you always for listening and in just a couple of weeks, we’re going to have Ron Clark on. I’m super excited about that, but before then, we’ve got a good episode coming next week, too, so don’t get too excited. Ron Clark will be here soon, but don’t forget to listen next week. I think you’ll enjoy it. We’ll talk to you guys again soon.