Metro, Arts

Through Art, Community Raises Money for Refugees

As people of various ethnicities, gender identities, and origins sat on the carpeted floor, Out of the Blue Too Art Gallery bore a similar resemblance to a kindergarten class.

This Saturday, the Cambridge-based gallery became a classroom without walls to tear its students apart, without harsh hands that mold prejudice into their minds or arbitrary labels placed on humans. People of all walks of life gathered for the Arts & Music Fundraiser for Refugee Health and Human Rights.

The eclectic gallery that the event was held in—filled with everything from jewelry to records to thrift clothing—perfectly reflected the audience drawn to the fundraiser.

The event, organized by the recently-formed Massachusetts Artists for Change, featured artwork and musical performances that centered on human rights, equality among genders and races, and the refugee crisis. Following the Boston Women’s March in January, one activist, Harmony Witte, decided it was time to get artists together to use their talents for political purposes.

Witte created the group and immediately received interest from multiple artists, but felt that she could do more. Riding on the momentum of the protests, she came up with the idea of using an art show to create that community. She made a Facebook event, and was contacted by Lyzz Zinn, a musician who wanted to turn the event into a fundraiser.

Witte and Zinn found their passion for art and music early on in life, and their political interest closely followed. While Witte developed the intersection of these two passions in creating this supportive community for artists who need it, Zinn felt that this event was the perfect outlet for those feeling attacked by the administration of President Donald Trump.

“I’m a survivor of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and my music has in a lot of ways been a healing process for that,” Zinn said.

Focused on enacting change with political action, no matter how small, Zinn believes that change comes from the summation of little acts of expression. This can be through art, music, writing, or any other outlet.

“With how deep-seated my trauma is, and with feeling re-traumatized by this new political regime, I was really inspired to bridge the two,” Zinn said. “Because art and music is just a really powerful way to enact change and just get people thinking.”

Witte and Zinn both emphasized the importance of creating more of these safe spaces for artists throughout Boston. The key component, they explained, is always treating those around oneself with respect.

“In any city there’s a space to be filled for artists and musicians where they can have a place to interact with each other and be encouraged with their work,” Witte said.

Their creation did just that, and they hope to see more events like these pop up in the future. At this event, performances ranged from folk bands and spoken-word poets, to short films and an interesting mixture of flute playing, rap, and singing.

A primary goal the two had for this fundraiser was to organize as much money as possible for the Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights. Founded by the Boston Medical Center, this organization seeks to provide assistance, healing, hope, and resources to torture survivors, asylum seekers, and refugees. Following Trump’s recent executive orders, members of Massachusetts Artists for Change voted this as the ideal organization to receive the proceeds of the event.

Robbie Adams, program coordinator at Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights, provided a short intermission between the artists to discuss the organization. The organizers use a method of “radical hospitality,” in which they make sure the environment they provide for their clients is as welcoming and open as it can be. Nearly all of their patients are survivors of government-sanctioned torture and fled their country for protection and safety. The people at the Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights provide services such as job readiness programs and mental health counseling, as well as items like warm clothing.

“They worked hard to get over here,” Adams said. “They deserve to be welcomed with open arms, not treated like criminals.”

One of the many clients of the center was also one of the performers of the night. Tears fell down many crowd members’ faces as poet Ari Belathar read the words she wrote in some of the darkest times of her life.

A student activist and journalist, Belathar was forced to flee Mexico at age 22 after surviving illegal imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Mexican National Army. With nothing but $4 and a suitcase filled with books, she traveled to America without any English or knowledge of where exactly she was headed.

She made it clear that for many people, fleeing their country is one last grasp at living freely and safely—not an easy trip that is taken lightly. Many refugees are unsure of where they will even end up, just traveling on in hopes of a better tomorrow.

“Those of us who have experienced torture have been driven beyond the borders of light into nothingness,” Belathar said.

Even after the immediate physical pain ended, her mind suffered the effects of the torture, and loneliness, long after its end.

“At 2 o’clock in the morning, you contemplate the disadvantage of a bullet in your head,” Belathar said.

After being driven to inhumane loneliness, pushed to the edges of pain, and held in exile for lengths of time so long she could not understand a universe outside of her body, Belathar struggled to find open arms. She said she oftentimes wished she could flee to a more hospitable, accepting country.

The Boston Center for Refugee Health and Human Rights gives Belathar and other refugees a place to transform their suffering into something new and begin the healing process. Without judgment, the center gave her the community that she has struggled to find.

Witte and Zinn made the next step simple: keep up to date with groups that start locally. As a first step, anyone interested in taking action can subscribe to Massachusetts Artists for Change on Facebook to get involved in future events. Small actions lead to immense changes, and you can provide help to people who greatly deserve it, like Belathar. Just this one event raised $1,433 for the cause that changed her life.

“Not long ago, somebody told me that I don’t look like a refugee,” Belathar said. “I don’t know what he meant. I don’t know how a refugee is supposed to look. I stand here in front of you, and I cannot tell the difference. The only difference is our circumstances.”

Featured Image by Mary Kate DiNorcia 

February 22, 2017