Back in 2013, when the Syrian War was still new and refugees were pouring across the desert border of Jordan, I found myself in the sprawling, chaotic Za’atari Refugee Camp, paint brushes in hand. I had never been in a refugee camp, never been to the Arab world, so I was a bit nervous and not sure how the community would receive mural projects for kids– would it matter? But if there was ever a place that needed color, joy and art, it was this desolate, colorless desert where people were stuck, many still in shock from their recent trauma and displacement. It ended up being a transformational moment for me, as I experienced the creativity and enthusiasm of so many beautiful children who had been through things that no child should have to go through. I also worked with talented, passionate local artists who wanted a chance to run their own art projects and uplift their community– and a dream was born.
Now, all these years later, I’ve had the good fortune to spend time in Jordan on 8 separate visits, in addition to multiple locations across Lebanon, Palestine and Qatar. As I led mural projects, my wife, CJ Thomas, has led inspiring dance and theater projects, while our small daughters have danced and painted with the “big kids.” The dream of setting up ongoing, sustainable community art programming– led by local artists– has come true: through Artolution and our partners like UNICEF, a team of Syrian refugee artists– half men, half women– has been facilitating murals with kids year-round in the Azraq Camp since 2019. Our Amman-based artist team leads a variety of mural and performance projects across the country, with a smaller program launched in Beirut.
I’m grateful to all the artists from across the Arab world who have believed in the transformative power of collaborative art-making, and use art as a tool to uplift children and communities experiencing turmoil. Below are some highlights from this ongoing journey…
Thanks to all our partners, past and present, who have made this work possible: UNICEF, GIZ, Qudra Programme, AptArt, UNHCR, International Rescue Committee, Norwegian Refugee Council and the US State Department.
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