Art, Belonging, and Community
The City of Durham’s Fund to Foster project focused on bridging relationships amongst foreign-born (refugees and immigrants) and other residents of Durham, North Carolina, through art and art therapy with funding from the organization Welcoming America. Our plan was simple, intentional, and with an expectation of lasting impact: develop relationships through culture-infused collaborative art activities to foster a rich sense of belonging for all residents. Many art projects celebrate and preserve the history of the city, but little show the future of the city or the inclusive and belonging community we strive to be. This project allows us to be able to specifically reach out to a population of the community that might not be as present or as loud as other members of our community and allows us to make a safe space for them to meet. With it, members were able to see the City’s true investment in the refugee and immigrant communities and show the rest of the city their work and value– exactly what inspired us to do this project. This project intersects Durham’s historical emphasis on the arts with Durham’s strategic priority to equitably engage all residents.
For our project, we hosted adult and teen art classes. The adults focused on learning and making a quilt. These classes took place over four consecutive Saturdays at Sew Crafty, a local sewing studio in Downtown Durham. The class was taught by Toni Mason from Sew Crafty alongside her assistant. There was also a certified art therapist, Bridget Pemberton-Smith. Participants uniquely represented Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Spain, Morocco, Mexico, and Venezuela. As such, we ensured that each class was simultaneously interpreted into Spanish by professional interpreters. Childcare was also provided for each class by certified practitioners. Each class was 4 hours long, with lunch catered by local international cuisine businesses. However, the participants opted to do a potluck at the final class, with each of them making dishes from their home countries. During their time together, these six participants created a beautiful quilt by melding two squares made by each participant; one represented what their new home of Durham meant to them, and another represented the home that they left. Moreover, the participants created a bond beyond their cultural and geographic borders. They even started their own WhatsApp group chat (called “Costureras del Mundo”) to keep in touch.
The second project consisted of two different painting classes for tweens and teenagers led by local Mexican-American artist Antonio Alanis. These painting classes were held in Downtown Durham at our public library’s maker space. We had 85 applicants for the available 27-person capacity. The countries represented in this class were Ecuador, Mexico, Honduras, Indonesia, Trinidad, Kenya, Pakistan, Myanmar, and the United States of America. These classes allowed the students to meet new people that were different from whom they normally interacted with and learn exactly what makes them different, but also bond over what they have in common. Classes were four hours long and consisted of bonding activities between the students, a reflection activity to get them to brainstorm for their final piece, catered lunch, and painting. Each student made a painting representing what home felt and meant to them. Lunch was catered by a different local international cuisine business each time.
We will host an art gallery opening as part of “Third Friday,” Durham’s monthly art event. Held at the Durham Bottling Co. along the Third Friday art crawl and in collaboration with the Durham Arts Guild, this event features the quilt and paintings created by the project participants. The event is open to the public and will include activities for children by the Durham Arts Guild and the art therapist. Attendees will enjoy the sounds of local bands, a photo booth/selfie station, and food from a local international cuisine business. Additional planning includes hosting an event with Antonio Alanis (the teacher for the painting classes) and Bridget Pemberton-Smith (the art therapist) at Durham Bottling Co to teach Durham Public School teachers how they can incorporate art into their classes in a way that bridges the divide. They will also present the curriculum we will create around the quilt-making class. It is our plan to have the quilt in rotation to different schools as a learning tool for students. Other activities are also in the works, and collaboration with the African American Quilt Guild of Durham might lead to another event for the community.
Not only do these projects create collaboration between Durham citizens and immigrants/refugees of the city, but it creates a community within the immigrants/refugees of the city that crosses cultural boundaries and language barriers. Aside from the communities and friendships that were formed through these classes, the work that happens after these classes will get even more reach and conversation. The art gallery opening will show residents of the city of Durham how dedicated the city is to creating a welcoming community and will give them a representation and voice that they might not have had.
Durham is a very welcoming place for immigrants, and thus the reason that many have decided to make Durham their home.