Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Memory Project: Creating Portraits of Kindness

I love that I love my job! This week has been especially meaningful; I love knowing that I’ve helped contribute to something greater than myself or even my students - Let me explain! (how many times can I say 'love' in one paragraph...Can you sense my enthusiasm?!)

Earlier in the semester, one of my design classes set a charity art project in motion. We were discussing the upcoming Fine Arts Festival (which, by the way, was a big hit!) and a student mentioned how at his sister’s school, they did a fundraiser at their art show to raise money for supplies, and inquired if we could do something similar.  I pointed out that as a private school, we already have a budget for supplies. I loved his response, “But, Ms. Palmer, couldn't we raise money for a charity instead? Like…an art charity?”

Yes, yes we can. I mean, how could you not love these kids?! After some research, I stumbled upon an organization called The Memory Project. You can watch this video to see the project in action!

In a nutshell, “The Memory Project invites art teachers and their students to create and donate portraits to youth around the world who have faced substantial challenges, such as neglect, abuse, loss of parents, violence, and extreme poverty.

These portraits help the children feel valued and important, to know that many people care about their well being, and to act as meaningful pieces of personal history in the future.  For the art students, this is an opportunity to creatively practice kindness and global awareness.”

27 of my students volunteered to participate in this project, and they spent several weeks working diligently to create vector portraits of 27 high school students in Bolivia. I've included just a few in this post.


Here are some of the challenges that these children in Bolivia face: “It is first important to know that Bolivia is the financially poorest country in South America. Such poverty leads to regrettable trends for many women and children, such as inadequate nutrition, limited healthcare, substance abuse, and domestic violence. Bolivia’s weak economy also creates a vacuum for narcotics, as many people can make far more money through the drug trade than they can through traditional employment.

These children all live in a particularly challenged area on the outskirts of a city, where many families live in one room homes with dirt floors and walls of sheet metal.”


It was inspiring to see how much my students cared about this project. Sometimes when students become frustrated, they fall into an attitude of “I just want to be done” or “this project is too difficult.” But these kids were amazingly dedicated. Despite the fact that this was the first time for all of them using Adobe Illustrator, or even digital art of any kind, they were motivated to keep at it until they had created portraits that the Bolivian students would love and cherish. They even wrote letters in Spanish (with the help of our Spanish teachers!) introducing themselves and explaining their artistic choices to make it even more personal. One student said, "The Memory Project helped me to fully appreciate just how powerful art can be. It's so crazy and inspiring to think that someone thousands of miles away has benefitted from my art project!"


This week, we received a video showing the delivery of the portraits. Overall, portraits were created for over 800 children in Bolivia, with the help of about 160 schools in the U.S., including Archmere Academy. In addition to the portraits, the participating schools as a group managed to raise over $4,000, which will help provide much needed services to these schools in Bolivia. I feel so proud that my students were part of this effort. 

I can’t imagine a better example of how we can use art to change lives and create powerful, social change. It’s a good day to be an art teacher!!