Joel Bergner is an artist, educator and organizer of community art initiatives with youth in conflict-affected and marginalized communities around the world, from Syrian refugee camps to American prisons; the favelas of Brazil to an orphanage in South Africa. His elaborate, large-scale murals weave smoothly between realism with an urban art sensibility and the honest expressions of children and community members.
In each project, he guides participants through the process of exploring issues that are important to them, designing their own composition and then collaboratively painting a public mural in their community. Joel travels the globe with his wife, CJ Thomas, who leads dance and theatre workshops, and their two young daughters.
Joel is the CEO and Co-Founder of the non-profit organization Artolution. In this role, he mentors and supports local artists in vulnerable communities to lead their own youth art programs, affecting the lives of thousands of children who participate in hundreds of locally-led projects each year. He helps develop and support for youth art programs in partnership with humanitarian agencies like UNICEF and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). Artolution’s biggest programs are currently in Uganda, Colombia, Bangladesh, Jordan and the US.
Joel’s background– beyond art– is as a counselor and case manager for youth affected by trauma, the homeless and mentally ill. He received his BA in Sociology from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). As he began experimenting with projects that combined his twin passions for community work and public art, he developed a unique approach to Community Art, one that puts local participants at the forefront of the creative process, making decisions about the themes and imagery, and then contributing their expressions to the final mural through a process of joyous, collaborative art-making. Joel has organized and led well over 100 community mural projects in 30 countries across Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Europe, Australia and North America. Funding and logistical support has from partnerships with dozens of institutions, from global NGOs to government agencies to tiny grass roots organizations. Joel and his work have been featured on the NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, CBS This Morning, NPR, Al Jazeera, Reuters and many other media outlets.
Joel has a passion for connecting and sharing with people through collaborative art-making. He continues his work as a community artist and supporting Artolution programs globally. He has called many cities home over the years, and currently resides in Washington, DC with his family.