Social Values and the Creative Act
In partnership with the United States Federal Government; Agency of International Development (USAID)
We will invite designers, artists and art therapists to design the ideal/model house for foster families to live in and successfully raise and educate the young people they take in from inadequate state orphanages. The concept house will be general and could be adapted for different countries and specific needs. This will give the children a chance at success in life that they would otherwise never get. After the house is built we will, through creative professionals, thinkers and art therapists focus on developing programs and support in teaching the children how to approach and solve problems and to express themselves visually. This will help to equip the foster children with the social and creative skills they will need to survive after the age of 16 when they leave care.
Globally, millions of children reside in dank underfunded orphanages. Today in Russia for example 40 percent of the 700,000 orphans in state care upon reaching adulthood will become alcoholics and 40 percent of them will serve time in prison. A further 7 per cent commit suicide and 80 percent will be socially and financially unable to start families of their own.
Currently in China official statistics suggest that there are 50,000 orphans in homes. This is implausibly low for a country with a population of 1.2 billion and seems a tragic case of government obfuscation and corruption. As far back as 1995 a British TV crew managed to gain access to several Chinese orphanages where they observed children tied to wooden toilets and wasting from starvation. This resulted in the poignant documentary titled ‘The Dying Rooms’. In other institutions across the country children were left to die of malnutrition in squalid conditions while enduring appalling medical abandonment. An article by German journalist Jurgen Kremb in the news magazine Der Spiegel reported that corpses were reportedly left wrapped in filthy clothing for days before being disposed of. In another rare expose, staff members at an orphanage in Nanning told journalists that 90% of girls died there. Predictably any official acknowledgment of such circumstances was denied flatly by local and state authorities.(2)
In state run homes there is often scant expertise to teach the children how to assimilate. Besides the basic lack of hygiene and nutrition coupled with the failure to teach the children practical daily skills – there are cases where older residents do not even understand how to boil water – the lack of personal care and human comfort are arguably more damaging in the long run. At best, overworked and well meaning carers lack the skills and resources to support the residents. At worse and all too often harsh, incompetent and abusive staff mean that the children are entirely unprepared for the wider world when they become independent – often around the age of 16 – if they even survive that long.
Stories such as those referenced here abound but there is hope. There are a growing number of selfless and dedicated foster families who are prepared to dedicate their lives to giving these damaged and desperate young people a chance. However they need support to assimilate them successfully. It has been observed that even a short amount of time spent in these safe and supportive environments is beneficial to the developmental progress of the children. In such units they flourish, learning about interaction, family dynamics, supportive co-existence and caring. This is often the only option to escape the vicious cycle of neglect.
One family, the Bezus’ in Russia’s Far East took in six orphans. The children have lived with the family since they were six years old and are making enormous progress in a loving environment. They are the fortunate few who have managed to break out of a system that so often leads to tragedy. But things are not easy; recently, the family house burnt down and they lost everything. The district authorities were able to help only marginally, giving the family a two room wooden hut with no amenities. Neighbors have been helping by gathering clothes and essential household items but their situation remains dire.
Inspired by the plight of the Bezus family we propose to work with the Federal Government’s United States Agency for International Development (USAID), New York artists and art therapists to design an ideal home environment for foster families to aid them in successfully realizing the potential of the young people they take in. While this will be a family home it will also function as a center for learning to develop the foster children’s creative senses individual interests and their awareness of themselves within the wider world; how they interact visually and how they see the world around them.
Artists, architects, educators and designers will collaborate to develop a house that will utilize artistic principles and education for emotional and spiritual growth.
Our project focuses on the creative and social qualities required to allow residents in foster care to assimilate fully into society. While food and medical care are immediate essentials, psychological and emotional ability are equally vital if they are to succeed in the long term.
The artists and designers will work to plan a home which can accommodate a family consisting of 2 parents and 6 children as well as having space for volunteers to run creative and experimental workshops and visual learning programs so that development through art education becomes an integral part of the design.
The process of imagining the house – and later building it – will be expansive and engaging. We will develop and adapt it so that the final architectural model will provide an environment which will enhance the foster children’s lives with a wide range of creative skills. Ongoing support from visiting art professionals and thinkers will see the residents gain the ability for independent decision making as well as appreciating values such as community, a respect for labor and the necessity of work.
A large part of our programming will involve art therapy. The founding principle within art therapy is that the creative act can be a healing gesture. It can help people to express untapped emotions; help reduce stress, fear, and anxiety while also lending a feeling of emancipation from daily troubles. This will be especially helpful when working with young foster family residents who may lack the vocabulary or language to express their emotions verbally.
In short this house will serve as a model which could be adapted for different countries and different cultures but essentially would function as a place where the home environment and expansive educational vision would come together in a center for social progress through the creative act.
1. (source – Madina Stepanchenko, social justice advocate, Promorsky Krai, Russia).
2. (source – The Dying Rooms: Chinese orphanages adopt a ‘zero population growth policy’ By Steven W. Mosher. Population Research Institute).