Imagine spending most of your life moving from one temporary home to another, with most, if not all, of your energy focused on survival. That was the harsh reality for the more than 40 individuals who sought relief at Webster Arts’ Outreach and Art Education to Refugees and Immigrants last spring.

During the 6-week program Webster Arts (an A&E grantee), in partnership with the International Institute, provided supplies and art instruction to immigrants from Bhutan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. For most of these men and women, this was the first time in years or even decades that they had access to the arts.

Jeane Vogel, executive director of Webster Arts, relates the story of one man, a former Bhutanese basket-maker, who participated in the program. “He hadn’t touched materials in 20 years, and you could just see his shoulders start to relax, and he’s smiling and showing everybody what he’s doing – it was remarkable.”

This man’s experience is just one of the many reasons Vogel decided to engage in this outreach in the first place.

“We know what [the arts] can do for stress relief and just connecting you back to the community or connecting you to a community. This helped them feel productive, which is really important.”

Above all, Webster Arts’ outreach has helped these displaced individuals find a sense of humanity again.

“What we know in our souls is that art elevates life,” says Vogel. “Art is the thing that makes us human, we’re creative beings. And when you take that level of creativity out of your life, everything else feels harder. Being able to take your mind and body and move it into a different direction that’s creating something new is the essence of who we are as people.”

Thanks in part to a PNC Project Grant from the Arts and Education Council, Webster Arts will launch an extended session of its Outreach and Art Education to Refugees and Immigrants program this September.

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