Spreading self-reflection, through art
It’s typical for Americans, especially teens, to engage in self reflection, but in other parts of the world it can be a luxury. This month, a dozen and a half Midcoast high school students will share their good fortune with children who live in very different circumstances. It is a journey likely to change the lives of both groups of young people.
MidCoast ChangeMakers, a collaboration of MidCoast Interact and The Rig, will travel to Guatemala City to do an arts-oriented service project with Safe Passage. That nonprofit, founded 13 years ago by Maine native Hanley Denning, works to bring hope, education and opportunity to the approximately 550 children and 300 families living in the neighborhoods that surround the Guatemala City dump.
Karen Hansen of Camden has made six service project trips to work with Safe Passage, a couple with local teens. Owner of KLH Business Solutions and Connect Space and a member of the West Bay Rotary Club, Hansen founded MidCoast Interact several years ago with then Camden Hills Regional High School student Hana Berke. Interact is a Rotary-sponsored nonprofit, nonpolitical, international service organization for 12-to-18-year-old youth; there are more than 10,000 clubs worldwide. The community-based MidCoast Interact Club is co-sponsored by West Bay Rotary and Camden Rotary and has involved Camden Hills students; Hansen said it hopes to expand down to the eighth grade soon.
“The first trip was with the PenBay Art Club, five students from Camden Hills. We had $500 left for seed money to start another project,” said Hansen.
Last year, funded by Rotary District 7790, Hansen took three young women to Guatemala to work on a village water project that involved building a school. When they returned, the students proposed raising $1,000 for furniture for the school. That successful crusade started the idea of returning for a service project.
“I wasn’t planning on going there this year … now we’re taking 18 kids,” said Hansen (one has since withdrawn from the trip).
Midcoast Interact Club now meets at Camden Hills but used to meet at The Rig, whose mission is to provide a safe place to pursue new ideas, new friendships and new skills for Midcoast youth in grades 9 through 12. Members of The Rig, which is located on Elm Street, assist with its operation and help facilitate community-based initiatives. Its current director is Nicole Marie Fuller of Rockland.
“Nicole and I have been trying for years to collaborate on some kind of service project for Safe Passage,” said Hansen.
When the women brought the idea to their respective groups, it was clear the time was right. Hansen recalled they presented it on a Monday and by Wednesday had as many students as they could take. Safe Passage opened another slot; the final group tally will include five chaperones, given Safe Passage’s one-for-every-three-students-younger-than-18 protocol. The students hail from Camden, Rockport, Rockland, Appleton and Lincolnville; and attend Camden Hills, Oceanside High School and Watershed School.
The Rig’s inaugural event back in 2009 was a pop-up art gallery and Fuller, who studied at Maine Media College and has worked with Julia’s Gallery of the Farnsworth Art Museum, is a working artist. In 2011, she traveled to Alebtong, Uganda, where she taught a photography workshop to local youth. So when it came to designing a service project, MidCoast ChangeMakers drew from her expertise.
“We’re doing a self-reflection journalism/art project, with both journal and artist pieces,” said Fuller.
Those pieces include bookbinding, journaling, cyanotype photography, writing, poetry and self portraiture. Midcoast ChangeMakers will be working with elementary and middle school aged youth to encourages self reflection and expression.
Before the school vacation, Fuller and Camden Hills student Caroline Albertson came up with rewards for Kickstarter backers. The overall goal of raising $40,000 for the trip is well on its way to being met. The group has put on a number of fundraisers since deciding on the project in December; the latest will be a Guatemalan-themed dinner plus live music, Mayan crafts for children and silent auction of donated items Sunday, March 3, beginning at 5 p.m. at Camden’s First Congregational Church.
The Kickstarter campaign aims to raise $2,000 for the specific materials needed. If that seems a small amount, it is because the primary art medium chosen is particularly well suited to people and places of little means.
“We’ll be making cyanotypes … it’s a sustainable art form using pre-treated paper. We’ll create negatives with stencils and natural objects. Cyanotypes are exposed in the sun and developed in water,” said Fuller.
Fuller has experience bringing this medium to rural communities, and the MidCoast ChangeMakers will be getting experience with using and presenting via a workshop at Jackson Memorial Library in Tenants Harbor.
“We’ll be working with little kids and practicing what we’ll be doing,” said Albertson, who is especially excited to be making the trip with grade school pal Clio Berta, who attends Watershed.
The students will be making art when they get back from Guatemala too, assuming the Kickstarter campaign is a success. The rewards include cyanotypes, handmade T-shirts and tote bags and origami, as well as DVDs of a video that will be shot during the trip.
The Kickstarter campaign ends Tuesday, March 5. The trip itself runs from March 15 and 25, less than four months since the group decided upon the project.
“We really hit the ground running! There were so many factors, but the community support has been wonderful,” said Fuller.
“We have great teenagers here, just looking for a way to get involved,” said Hansen.
For more information on the trip and to back the Kickstarter campaign, visit kickstarter.com and search for Midcoast ChangeMakers (linked below). For more information about other fundraising events, visit Midcoast ChangeMakers Facebook page.
Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115 or firstname.lastname@example.org.