My lovely friend Kristyn Komarnicki, editor of PRISM Magazine, published an article back in December on a under-celebrated project by an artist called Robert Shetterly. This project (entitled "Americans Who Tell the Truth: Models of Courageous Citizens") is an artistic celebration of the world's "more obscure" heroes, people who may go less noticed by our media, but do not go unnoticed by those whose lives they change. Click the words of this sentence to read Kristyn's interview to get a fuller picture (as it were) of this project's greatness.
My favorite featured hero in Shetterly's collection is a woman named Lily Yeh. Yeh emigrated to Philadelphia from China in her 20's to study art in UPenn's Graduate School of Fine Arts then held a professorship at Philadelphia's University of the Arts for 30 years. But this isn't why I love her. This is:
In 1986, Lily Yeh was asked by Arthur Hall, founder of the Afro-American Dance Ensemble, to create a park in the abandoned lot next to his studio in North Philadelphia. She transformed the lot into an art park with mosaic murals and sculpted trees. The park was the beginning of The Village of Arts and Humanities, which was co-founded by Yeh in 1989. Lily, along with neighborhood residents and staff members, transformed more than 120 other lots into gardens and parks. They have also renovated vacant homes, creating art workshops, a youth theater, and educational programs. In 2004, Yeh left the Village of Arts and Humanities to pursue other work internationally.
In 2003, Lily Yeh founded the non-profit organization Barefoot Artists Inc. Using the same concept and model used in Philadelphia, the Barefoot Artists works to train and empower local residents, organize communities, and take action to use the power of art to transform impoverished communities. Recently, Yeh has worked on projects in 10 countries including Rwanda, Kenya, Ecuador, and her home country of China.
As a part of the Barefoot Artists Inc, Lily Yeh founded the Rwanda Healing Project. This project is working with children, using art in communities to bring peace in villages that have experienced the genocide and civil war. She designed the Rugerero Genocide Memorial Monument Park in 2004 and it was built in 2005 with help from hundreds of local villagers. (Wikipedia)
One day I hope I get to meet Lily Yeh. She promotes healing through art & beauty in two places my heart also loves deeply: North Philadelphia & Rwanda. It's amazing to think we work together, even though we've never met. But she's a hero, and I'd love to hug her and tell her, "Thank you."
And a big thank you to Robert Shetterly – from the bottom of my heart – for singing her song and the stories of many unsung heroes of this world with this beautiful project.