buildOn Creates Books for Mali, Nicaragua Students with NURTUREart

By Molly O’Brien, Education Coordinator at NURTUREart & buildOn’s Matt Pryfogle

This week’s guest blog is written about the Books for Mali project, a collaboration between buildOn and NURTUREart, a nonprofit art gallery in Brooklyn, New York. NURTUREart’s Education Program connects artists with students, the next generation of artists, through a variety of projects.

Books for Mali
The book program came about by incorporating art-making with buildOn’s global literacy goal. The process of making books gets the students excited for their trips to build a school, even those who don’t go overseas. They learn about their destination’s language and culture; and all of the books we have made are bilingual, so they can be used as a learning tool.

During Books for Mali, students in buildOn’s afterschool programs in Manhattan and Brooklyn collaborated with Brooklyn artist Cooper Holoweski. They decided to illustrate a popular Malian folktale, The Epic of Sundiata. Cooper works a lot with collage, so he chose that as the medium. He showed the group some examples of collages by historically famous artists. They first created the main characters, and then worked in groups to illustrate the main events of the story over the course of three weeks. After creating the books, buildOn contacted the father of a student from Mali, who provided the Bambara translations used in the book. Everyone was  impressed with the final product and what can be made with just some recycled newspapers and a pair of scissors!

100 books were printed and brought to Genale, Mali by the students who went to build a school. The headmaster of the school was thrilled and had the buildOn members hand out all the books to the students. With 100 books, every student in the 3rd through 6th grade could look at one at the same time. When the students were given a break they rushed out to show their parents the books and the entire community spent lunch that day looking at them. buildOn students were amazed by how much the community loved the books because they hadn’t thought about the lack of books in the community (especially in color), which led us to several meaningful conversations about literacy.

What’s next?
We are in the process of creating another book with buildOn for the buildOn New York school-building trip to Nicaragua happening this week! Instead of making books prior to the trip, we want to have the children in Nicaragua also contribute to the books. While the buildOn students are in Nicaragua, they will hold art workshops for children. The books will explore and compare daily life in Nicaragua and New York using watercolor and photography.

Why buildOn?
We were introduced to buildOn a few years ago. At the time, our gallery was located just a block from Grand Street Campus High School in Brooklyn, where buildOn has a chapter. The mission of buildOn is so refreshing. Our programs had always aimed to benefit the students and the artists involved, and here was a group of students with a goal to help others. Our partnership with buildOn is different than with our other school partners because it allows us to work with students throughout New York  and gives us the opportunity to reach children around the world. The impact is huge.

NURTUREart’s mission is to support emerging artists. It hosts exhibitions in its gallery space, a lecture series, and an online registry where artists from all over the world can upload and share their work. The nonprofit is working with buildOn students on several projects for its summer exhibition, Is This Free?