Making Art That Tells Their Stories: Greenbrier Global Artists
As a primary resettlement city for the International Rescue Committee (IRC), Charlottesville is now home to refugees and asylees from countries on three continents, including many families with young children. Looking for a way to welcome these refugees into their new community, staff at The Fralin Museum of Art reached out to Angela Corpuz, the art teacher at Greenbrier Elementary School, and Golara Haghtalab, an artist and recent UVA graduate who immigrated from Iran in 2011. Together they launched Greenbrier Global Artists, a weekly after-school enrichment program for first-through-fourth graders that encourages children to express themselves artistically, while celebrating their unique experiences as immigrants and refugees. "We envisioned a curriculum that would support the children in communicating who they are, the experiences they've had, and what is important to them, as well as fostering pride in their national identity," explained associate academic curator Aimee Hunt. "We began with getting-to-know-you exercises and self-portraits. In subsequent weeks, we focused on elements that were more specific to the individual children, including projects about their families, their memories of their home countries, and maps of places that are important to them now that they live here. They also made clay representations of their favorite foods, and we did get a lot of burgers, fries, and pizza," Hunt reported with a smile, adding that new student refugees were more likely to make traditional dishes from their native countries. The Greenbrier program, Hunt says, is a direct result of director Matthew McLendon's vision for The Fralin. "We had been looking for a way to serve this community for a while, and Matthew really prioritized it. He wants these populations to come to the museum and feel comfortable here, and he wants them to see themselves – and others – reflected in the exhibitions they see while they're here." The program culminated with a public exhibition in The Fralin's Cornell Entrance Gallery, which offered a unique opportunity for the children's friends and families to witness their creativity and accomplishments. Each child had their own small exhibition, with their work displayed around their self-portrait and a map of their home country. The program begins its second year on September 23 with the addition of University student mentors from the Curry School and weekend programs that the children can attend with family members, building relationships with a broadening community of museum visitors.