Memory Project Inspires Kindness in Local Art Students

Karen Bandy hosts a showing of the 30 portraits during Bend’s First Friday ArtWalk

by APRIL LEWIS Cascade A&E Feature Writer

memoryArt students at Summit High School are doing a creative project they can feel good about, showing kindness and service to under privileged orphans, miles away in Rwanda. The Memory Project (part of My Class Cares, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization) is a unique opportunity to gift orphaned children in third world countries with a keepsake portrait of themselves, painted by art students from the U.S., Canada, the UK, Australia and Korea.

When Ben Schumaker founded the Memory Project in 2004, his vision was to give under privileged children a keepsake to contribute to their sense of heritage and for the children see themselves as a work of art. Art teacher Meaghan Houska says this project has been a touching experience. “To paint someone’s face is an intimate experience. My students feels an emotional connection to the child they are painting,” said Houska.

Eight years ago, Houska had her art students participate in the Memory Project and was reminded by a past student how valuable the experience had been. She took her idea to Vice Principal Al Hulbert to take on this project once again. Hulbert has his own connection with Rwanda; he will be traveling in the spring to help facilitate training of teachers in the region. He felt it was important for the school to be involved in the Memory Project.

Each photograph of an orphan cost $15 dollars (to receive the child’s photograph with packaging to insert the completed painting for delivery to the orphan) and funds were needed for 30 students to participate. Hulbert and Houska decided to challenge fellow teachers and students to help raise funds for the art project. Classrooms have helped raise money and some individuals have “adopted” a child’s photograph, contributing $15. With continued support, most of the monies have been raised.

Houska and her students received photographs from an orphanage in northwest Rwanda, near the Virunga volcanoes, an area of little resources. A Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda had visited this orphanage to take the photographs and will personally deliver the painted portraits to almost 500 children in March 2013. Each orphan will receive a package with their photograph along with the finished portrait and a photograph of the art student who painted their face. Many of these orphans who have never seen a photo of themselves will cherish the keepsake.

“It’s been eye opening,” said Garrett Walden, a junior in Houska’s art class. “It’s motivating to try real hard to capture their face. I think about their life and how hard it is for them.” A fellow student, Nicole Cuddihy says of the boy she is painting, “He’s got a great smile and he looks so energetic. It makes me smile working on it. It’s an incredible project.”

When local jeweler Karen Bandy heard about Houska’s art project, she wanted to involve the community, to show what local students are doing for the Memory Project. In December, Bandy will host a showing of the 30 portraits during Bend’s First Friday Art Walk in the breeze way next to Thump Coffee. “I thought the emotional link to Rwanda would be a cool way for our community to see how the children’s lives can improve,” said Bandy. The Memory Project portraits from Summit High School will be on display at 25 NW Minnesota Avenue on Friday, December 7, 5pm-9pm.

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