Last summer, one of our ArtHeart volunteers met a Syrian refugee who had a dream. He wanted to create an art program that would help Syrian refugees explore their creativity and connect to the wider arts community in Toronto. A few months later, that dream was realized and ArtHeart launched a free program for Syrian newcomers!
The three-month project began in January with generous financial assistance from the Fairlawn Avenue United Church. It was led by Ousama Alkhatib, the young man who envisioned the program, and it’s a wonderful success story. Starting with our first class on a snowy night, the Syrian newcomers embraced the project. With the help of professional artist volunteers, they experimented with watercolour, ink, acrylic and collage. Most of them were painting for the first time. All of them told their stories on canvas and paper. Some of their stories were of the pain and loss they have suffered.
Others were exuberant and joyful, a reflection of their new lives in Canada. The Syrian Art Project was the topic of a feature article in the Toronto Observer: Syrian Newcomers Express Themselves Through Art
At the end of the program, the paintings were mounted in a special exhibit:”Our Art, Our Stories”. It was a unique addition to ArtHeart’s annual exhibit – the 2018 SPRUNG Art Show & Sale – and occupied an entire wall of the Daniels Spectrum.
Along with the paintings created by the Syrian newcomers, there was children’s art from a refugee camp in Lebanon. This was a powerful and poignant exhibit, and was celebrated at special Syrian Night party on April 11th. More than 100 people attended and enjoyed delicious Syrian food!
“Our Art, Our Stories” will be displayed at the Fairlawn Avenue United Church in the fall, and hopefully, at other venues.
The United Church Observer also profiled the project: Syrian Refugee Finds Beautiful Way To Help Those He “Left Behind”
And the CBC heard about the program! The project manager, Ousama Alkhatib and one of our talented participants, Haya, were interviewed on The Current: Telling Their Stories On Canvas
It has been a positive experience for all those involved. “This is a safe and cozy place to create. I am expressing a new part I have found inside me,” said one participant. We thank the Fairlawn Avenue United Church, the artist volunteers and Ousama Alkhatib for making a wonderful dream come true!