Joel Bergner (aka Joel Artista) is an artist, educator and organizer of community-based public art initiatives with youth in conflict-affected and traumatized communities around the world, from Syrian refugee camps to American prisons; the favelas of Brazil to the Kibera Slum of Kenya. His elaborate, large-scale murals weave smoothly between realism with an urban art sensibility and the raw expressions of children, who learn to tell their stories through art. Joel travels the globe with his wife, CJ Thomas, who leads dance and theatre workshops, and their young daughter, Amara.
Joel is the co-founder and co-director of the non-profit organization Artolution, through which he trains and supports local artists in vulnerable communities to lead their own Artolution community art programs, affecting the lives of thousands of children each year. Artolution partners with UNICEF, the International Rescue Committee, UNHCR and other agencies to integrate community-based public art programming in humanitarian response around the world.
Beyond his art, Joel has a background as a youth counselor and received his BA in Sociology from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). Over the past 10 years, as he led art programs in over 25 countries across Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, Europe, Australia and North America, Joel developed his unique combination of community work and mural art in partnership with dozens of institutions and community groups. His projects have addressed issues including the Syrian, Rohingya and South Sudanese refugee crises, mass incarceration in the US, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the plight of street youth, gaining attention from international media outlets like CNN, Al Jazeera and Reuters. Joel has a passion for connecting and sharing with people through collaborative art-making.