By Patrick Winderl
Dozens of Havre residents are participating in a unique exchange program that pairs artists - both amateur and professional - with people in other countries, all in the name of world peace.
Whether they are young or old, experienced or otherwise, the people working on the Global Art Project share a love for art and a desire to learn more about people from other cultures. Through the project, founded by Katherine Josten in 1994, every two years participants create artwork and share it with people they have never met and who often live thousands of miles away. The art embodies sentiments of peace and unity, and is intended to foster a spirit of goodwill and friendship among people of different cultures.
"It's about using art as a way to understand the world," said Krista Solomon, program director for the Boys & Girls Club of the Hi-Line. "It's the exposure to new ideas, and the connection to other people."
Next week, kids at the Boys & Girls Club will begin constructing artwork using chalk, watercolors and markers.
"They're allowed to send a picture of themselves and a little about themselves. Hopefully through the exchange they'll be able to keep communicating with a person in another part of the world," Solomon said.
All of the art created by area residents for the Global Art Project will be on display for the public to see next month. At the end of April, the art will be shipped to people in foreign countries, who send their artwork in return.
Over the past decade, more than 56,000 people hailing from every continent have joined the Global Art Project, and this year marks the first time anyone from Havre has participated. Kris Shaw, who owns the High Plains Gallery and Frame Shop in Havre, is coordinating the local effort.
Shaw said she first became aware of the Global Art Project earlier this year during a trip to Bozeman. There, she saw a brochure for the organization, and was immediately touched by its message.
"I just decided that this is something I wanted to do," Shaw said. Shaw wrote Josten an e-mail detailing her interest in the project, and Josten responded with a challenge. Shaw was asked to generate involvement rom more people in Havre.
Shaw approached a number of Havre residents, some who were interested in participating, others who were not, she said. In addition to youngsters at the Boys & Girls Club, those who decided to join the project include a collection of people from Van Orsdel United Methodist Church, as well as a local wellness group, local photographer Steve Helmbrecht and Montana State University-Northern student Russell Raschkow.
The group from Van Orsdel is crafting a quilt, the Rev. VaundaLee DeLong said. About 10 church members have created patches that will be sewn into the final project, she said, adding that the quilt has been named "Peace by Piece."
Shaw's art project is a wire sculpture of a tree with seven branches. Each contains human figures of various colors. The seven branches represent the seven continents and the multicolored people are symbolic of the many cultures throughout the world, Shaw said.
"All the people are helping each other up and they are all connected," she said.
The sculpture is intended to convey Shaw's desire for people to "help each other out and lift each other up and stop fighting," she said.
"Like the program says, it's a vision of global unity."
Shaw said she has no idea of what to expect from the artwork that will be sent to Havre from people in other countries.
"It's kind of like Christmas," she said. "Because it's an exchange, we'll find out about other people in the world."
Helmbrecht, who teaches ceramics at MSU-N, said his project will not use photography.
"It will be a thrown pot with some incising in it," he said, adding that he has not yet started working on it.
"I have no expectations," Helmbrecht said. "I'm doing it as a person that just wants to make a contribution. I think what I get from it will be just the satisfaction of making a contribution, and then obviously the interaction between the people."
About a dozen people who meet at the Earthlights Wellness Center are working on a project, said Rita Campbell, who owns a health foods store that is part of the wellness center in the Holiday Village Shopping Center.
"It will be called 'The Missing Piece,' and is a puzzle of pictures of ourselves and our families and friends," she said. "In the middle, there will be one piece missing with a mirror in the middle, so when people come by, what they will see is themselves."
Campbell said she hopes the collage will inspire other people to strive for world peace.
"We're hoping that people will realize that in order to have world peace, everybody needs to be involved, so that when people come by, they will realize that they need to be involved in the peace process, too," she said.
Several people from the wellness group are planning to craft individual art projects for the global exchange, including Campbell, her husband, Kevin, and Campbell's daughter, Amber D'Hooge, who is the photographer at the Havre Daily News.
Josten said on the Global Art Project Web site that participating in the art exchange is tremendously rewarding.
"The best part of this whole experience for me has been the incredible people with whom I've been in contact. It's a wonderful feeling to be in touch with so many people who operate from the heart, who really care about the world and understand that they have the power to create its future," she wrote.
In a document e-mailed to the Havre Daily News, Josten explained how the Global Art Project mushroomed from humble beginnings to a global movement. She recalled how she quit her teaching job and gave up painting to pursue her dream of sharing her vision of unity with other people.
"It was extremely difficult because I began with just an idea - no computer, no money and no contacts - just me sitting in my studio with a typewriter and a vision of what could be," Josten wrote. "This was an extremely difficult time."
Ultimately, she chose a global art exchange program as the right vehicle for her mission, and the Global Art Project was born. In 1993, Josten shared her vision with other artists at an international art show in Tucson, Ariz., where Josten lives. With a $1,500 loan from her parents, she printed brochures and banners, and sent press releases to every major media outlet she could think of.
"I didn't know what would happen," she wrote. "I feared that there would be no response at all, or too much response for me to handle. As it turned out, articles began appearing in newspapers around the world. And I began receiving heartwarming letters from so many different types of people of varying ages from so many different places on Earth."
The project attracted 3,600 participants the first year, and has grown exponentially since then, Josten said. Today, she devotes herself "more than full time" to continuing the project, and is pleased by the response she has seen.
"The future is in our hands but we must have a vision first of how we want the world to be. The Global Art Project gives everyone an opportunity to go deeply within to envision peaceful cooperation and then join with others around the world to make that vision a reality. It's a way of healing ourselves and transforming the world."
The art created by the local people participating in the Global Art Project will be displayed April 3-22 at Van Orsdel United Methodist Church.