Ode to Lily Yeh

Andrea Hammer | October/November 2011 Issue
Ode to Lily Yeh Beijing, China
In her new book, Awakening Creativity: Dandelion SchoolBlossoms, Lily Yeh writes that she does not consider herself brave. Yet as the founder of Barefoot Arists, a non-profit group that creates social change with art, she has been a global catalyst, transforming broken inner-city neighborhoods everywhere from North Philadelphia to Rwanda.
“People living in disenfranchised and traumatized communities often became totally silenced and invisible to the world,” she says. “Awakening creativity in people in general, especially in traumatized situations, empowers and heals. It gives them space to express themselves and share their grief, despair and dreams for the future.”
Drawing on the belief that art making is accessible, inclusive, nurturing and healing, Yeh -re-imagined a rundown factory on Beijing’s outskirts as a school for migrant workers’ children who were without access to education. During the five-year metamorphosis of the space, hundreds of students, teachers and volunteers participated in painting, mosaic and sculpture projects at Dandelion School. Yeh’s first book, filled with colorful images of fully engaged participants, provides visual testimony to the uplifting power of her work.
As one example, Yeh recalled a young teenaged boy at the school whose family raised pigs. He was new, felt out of place, lacked confidence and was unhappy—even though the school offered better living conditions and an opportunity for education. Feeling utterly miserable, the teenager wanted to quit school and return home.
“While waiting for his father, who was not immediately available, to pick him up, he saw people making mosaics on campus,” Yeh said. “He joined them and liked it so much that he smiled and interacted with the other students. He left for the weekend, but he came back to school the next Monday.”
Yeah has a long history of helping the disenfranchised cope with feelings of alienation and discrimination, build self-esteem and take ownership and action, and Barefoot Artists’ projects have uplifted many communities. As the co-founder and former director of The Village of Arts and Humanities in North Philadelphia, she organized neighborhood groups through arts and revitalization projects, remodeling 200 vacant city lots into artistic green spaces in 20 years.
“The colors and patterns echo throughout the space in The Village of Arts and -Humanities,” she says. “From a broken and forgotten place, our working -together turned it into a nationally known and celebratory community. It shows that art is a powerful tool in building community and social change. Artists can be at the center of that change.”

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Ode to Lily Yeh

Andrea Hammer | October/November 2011 Issue
Ode to Lily Yeh Beijing, China
In her new book, Awakening Creativity: Dandelion SchoolBlossoms, Lily Yeh writes that she does not consider herself brave. Yet as the founder of Barefoot Arists, a non-profit group that creates social change with art, she has been a global catalyst, transforming broken inner-city neighborhoods everywhere from North Philadelphia to Rwanda.
“People living in disenfranchised and traumatized communities often became totally silenced and invisible to the world,” she says. “Awakening creativity in people in general, especially in traumatized situations, empowers and heals. It gives them space to express themselves and share their grief, despair and dreams for the future.”
Drawing on the belief that art making is accessible, inclusive, nurturing and healing, Yeh -re-imagined a rundown factory on Beijing’s outskirts as a school for migrant workers’ children who were without access to education. During the five-year metamorphosis of the space, hundreds of students, teachers and volunteers participated in painting, mosaic and sculpture projects at Dandelion School. Yeh’s first book, filled with colorful images of fully engaged participants, provides visual testimony to the uplifting power of her work.
As one example, Yeh recalled a young teenaged boy at the school whose family raised pigs. He was new, felt out of place, lacked confidence and was unhappy—even though the school offered better living conditions and an opportunity for education. Feeling utterly miserable, the teenager wanted to quit school and return home.
“While waiting for his father, who was not immediately available, to pick him up, he saw people making mosaics on campus,” Yeh said. “He joined them and liked it so much that he smiled and interacted with the other students. He left for the weekend, but he came back to school the next Monday.”
Yeah has a long history of helping the disenfranchised cope with feelings of alienation and discrimination, build self-esteem and take ownership and action, and Barefoot Artists’ projects have uplifted many communities. As the co-founder and former director of The Village of Arts and Humanities in North Philadelphia, she organized neighborhood groups through arts and revitalization projects, remodeling 200 vacant city lots into artistic green spaces in 20 years.
“The colors and patterns echo throughout the space in The Village of Arts and -Humanities,” she says. “From a broken and forgotten place, our working -together turned it into a nationally known and celebratory community. It shows that art is a powerful tool in building community and social change. Artists can be at the center of that change.”

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