Saturday, August 9, 2008

A Real Olympian

I can hear the sad and mellow music and the resonating sound of 2008 drums on the TV behind me. The Parade of Nations is underway and the spectacular opening ceremonies have exploded on everyone’s television, high definition or otherwise tonight in the United States. Early this morning, people from other parts of the world were able to watch this incredible gala, but like many other “American” ways, a national network had bought the “rights” to the broadcast coverage, and most of us in this country are watching this for the first time. Fouad was transfixed this morning watching the coverage from Austria, describing the mural like opening with large graphics and moving walls that were filled with multimedia images and backdrops as fireworks lit up the skies in the most unforgettable gala ever.

But as I sit here writing this, I think of our new Sports Mural Mile Ambassador and think how the Creator must have engineered our meeting and ensuing appointment on this ominous day—the opening of the 2008 Olympics. Donald Suxho touched my heart today as we exchanged events of our lives that brought back burning memories of times in history where we witnessed and experienced life differently than it is to us today. Donald spoke of owning a single pair of shoes; of being cold and poor and living under Communism in the most austere of circumstances. We spoke of Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo and to me, it was a conversation that brought out a soulful, reminiscent and passionate, compassionate inner being of a tall young handsome man whose heart is there on the TV behind me. Because of an injury, his star became a falling star and prevented him from being among that Parade of Nations, or the fierce competition of athletics that were designed to INSPIRE and MOTIVATE young people to be in the best possible physical and spiritual state they could in order to leave a legacy and pass that on to the next 10 generations and beyond.

So there he sat in our meeting today; lamenting and feeling and sharing his personal disappointment. I looked into his intense eyes and at his deep smile and could feel his wounded heart as he spoke with tinged sadness and thought about the meaning and the purpose of our meeting on this very day. Destiny had a hand in all of this and in my heart I sensed there was a specific reason why this accomplished athlete and rising star was sitting here in Cafe 101 in Oceanside, California.

Throughout the afternoon and in my conversation with Fouad by phone later, I told him how I had felt a great stirring inside. I knew that the Art Miles, though waiting for what seems like a very long time, had found our Sports Mile Ambassador. I knew that what Donald experienced as a small boy, and then a young man in the US, and later as a revered athlete left a visible and invisible imprint in his heart. I could see and hear and feel that he carries with him, and his dreams for his son, the ideals the Olympiad represents. This strong character burns brightly in his heart in a way that can only be felt by someone who has run a race, placed his heart and soul into winning the gold, but whose injury kept him from the getting to that magic finish line.

But we all know, that real life does these things. Challenges are thrown in our paths and some of us are able to pick up the torch and move forward. Others of us find a different path that gets us to the finish line in a different way, and for some, like Donald and our team, adventures are made along the way that might have otherwise been only blurs of images in our life marathon. To feel, to understand, to reach out, to share, is a totally different Olympiad. It is the Olympics that make a difference and even though the gold medals may be few and far between, or not there at all, the gold nuggets, and silver miles of smiles of helping others along the way, will bring out the real Olympic champion for those like Donald. After all, the intention of the Olympics was to bring out the best in people and bring them together. And for me, and the rest of Art Miles Team, Donald, there sitting at home thinking about what evades him, is about to win the real Olympic gold when he shows millions of people that creating global harmony takes a Real Olympian to make it happen. A warm welcome Donald!

Joanne Tawfilis

Donald Suxho is the Art Miles Mural Project's Sports Mile Mural Ambassador. His role like everyone else on our team is to travel the road that will bring us to the Art Miles Mural Pyramid together. Donald was introduced to us through a great friend of his, Adam Rendon who told us about this special athlete that was an established and rising star with the US Olympic Volleyball Team but due to an injury was unable to participate. Donald was born in Albania and is a young man of wonderful compassion and integrity and believes that all of us should be helping those less fortunate. He learned this from his parents who taught him how to appreciate everything because as we know, most people in the world are not so fortunate. Donald believes in this and works to prove it and joined our project because he thinks working with youth and sports is a great way to unite people and the sports mile and the arts are a great fit for him. So...he joined Art Miles and within a couple of weeks was suddenly recruited to join the Al Jazira Volleyball Team in Abu Dabai and wouldn't you know, his first training session took him straight to Cairo? DESTINY and a great welcome to a terrific young star who will be an inspiration to our team and people everywhere!

Saturday, June 9, 2007

A Boy From the Bronx

An Art Miles Mural Project – Shoes of Hope Story

“Media men” have a certain pose. They stand to their tallest height, cameras and tripods weighing them down, maybe in a little pain, but all the same looking strong and ready, not willing to look as if their tools were a burden. “Media Women” have a different pose. They are usually lagging behind with coils of cable, or talking loudly into their recorders or furiously jotting down notes. Then there are others out there-- fingers pointing, matching clothes, perfect camera skin and hands flailing about in multiple directions as if to point to the air above or in between objects and personalities.

All of that was present as guests began to arrive. Fish people (little children from New York’s Chinatown), scurried furiously to find their space center stage as the wind blew from the East River up and over the slate tiles, ablaze with Ranan Lurie’s “Uniting Painting” and a thousand pairs of hand painted Starbury Shoes skimming alongside in vibrant happy colors and designs containing messages of peace and environmental concerns.

I stood there watching the scene unfold as the UN flag waved with the winds blowing off the shore of the river, sun shining brightly, and only a whisper of a cloud above. A ribbon of color was wound atop and through several levels of stairway and the waving pattern of color fused with the summer light, was actually formed by lines of shoes and the scene was breathtaking. Rainbows of colors brought the Lurie Painting alive, as if each shoe, each painter was inspired by the pathway this painting represented. From the inside of the UN itself, out the building, across the plaza and into and out again from the East River to Roosevelt Island.

Inside the shoes, were special messages tucked deep inside the shoes to children far away, written by those who painted them. The notes were personal and powerful, sharing thoughts of things in common, pain and hurt, of peace, environment and climate change.

I watched with interest how the media men and media women transformed, like ducks in a pond, swimming and paddling furiously following their Matron, shifting right and left, and left and right, to herald the arrival of Bindi Erwin and an ice carved Polar Bear. A throng of school children and the media surrounded Bindi as she and her mother read about environment and appealing for all to join the race to seek help seek resolutions about “Climate Change”. The circle around Bindi grew thicker and wider, until all that could be seen was water from the symbolic bear melting from its iced form into what represented the melting glaciers somewhere far away.

But somewhere on the flagstone surface, outside the high rise buildings and the UN Secretariat, there stood a child from the Bronx. A few days earlier, he had painted a pair of Starbury Shoes, one of a thousand pairs of shoes donated by famous New York Knicks basketball star, Stephon Marbury and today, with his teacher and some members of his classroom, he watched them being placed and aligned along the magnificent Lurie Painting, his eyes following it’s path, blazing with happiness and joy.

Suddenly, from the far left corner, he caught sight of a tall handsome man in a suit, surrounded by a flurry of other young handsome men in suits and a gaggle of security people. It only took about 30 seconds for him to recognize who it was and his happiness and joy simply erupted into a whooping, laughing, giggling utterance of glee, with sounds unheard in this normally sedate and serious place. “Stephon Marbury” himself! His hero, there before him, walking along the plaza, looking at shoes…his shoes! His body tumbled into a somersault,propelled by the sheer joy that burst from his heart and he raced to embrace and hug his hero with all the might his youthful soul could extend. Even the security staff could not react to this “explosion of joy”.

My soul stirred, and suddenly Bindi and the crowd around her were eclipsed by this magical moment of human emotion—from a Boy from the Bronx and a man of goodwill—Stephon Marbury—the giver of the “Shoes of Hope”, a true humanitarian and a man true to a commitment to help kids by being a mentor, a hero, and in my eyes a true kindred spirit.

By Joanne Tawfilis June 9, 2007

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Live Earth Alive In Laguna Beach

Gearing up for Earth Day in a soon to be proclaimed “Earth Trustee City” was magic today! Driving up the famous Pacific Coast Highway 101 to the “Real Laguna Beach” with Richard one of our Art Miles staff was a great way to start the “official welcome to spring”. The fog and haze simply lifted as we swung as we wound through the ribbons of freeway lanes and onto highway 101 as if knowing that we, like spring were en route.

We arrived at th
e Montessori School to find the Director--Deepa already unloading her car, and Charles Michael Murray holding his son Oliver in his arms, seemingly unwilling to hand him over or release him from the closeness of their hearts. If you knew them, you would understand the bond and warmth between them, and the copper colored curly headed boy with big brown eyes, seemed to be just fine with that feeling.

The school was quiet and chilled by the morning ocean air, but I could see the clouds above already beginning to thin like a huge sheer panel of a giant st
age about to introduce an unbelievable symphony. What an incredible school…in one of California’s loveliest cities with the backdrop of the beautiful surf of the Pacific Ocean.

The symphony came in the form of about 50 laughing and smiling children. Little ones with big eyes. Little ones with lots of hair and rosy cheeks and little ones wearing big shirts. And to our delight there was a gaggle of parents there to “help” and to encourage the little folks to participate in yet another incredible “Earth Day” preparatory event. The paints and tarps and brushes and canvas was laid out there—that ever present large white stretch of blank fabric that would be the stage where a performance about life, about earth was about to unfold.

And so it was, with a basic sketch about the Montessori philosophy of connecting and relating everything to Mother Earth and each other as humans, the children filed out of the classrooms in small groups, wearing their big tee shirts and colorful aprons and began to create the masterpiece of the day. This part of mural magic—the process is always my personal reward—to see the wonder of how the almost edible colors and textures of paint the children paint upon the canvas brings out that unspoiled and joyful inner innocence among them. They look at the canvas with wonder and forget about the parents and teachers who are watchfully and wistfully wishing they could be part of this experience. Little do they know how very much they are because it is they, who along with the teachers have taught and encouraged their offspring to let the creativity and spontaneity rise from there little hearts and souls and spill out onto that canvas.

To see them working together and laughing and explaining or describing their creations is incomparable. To hear their expressions and chatter beats all the fanfare and flourish of the politicians who say a lot about nothing. This is where it matters. This is where the children learn about self- confidence, motor skills, self expression, commonalities, color, shape, design, and building consensus among each other.

And the murals ALWAYS com
e out beautifully. It doesn’t matter if the color in the lines or if a horse is red or a sky is purple…after all, that is how things are or should be in real life! They painted green apples, and golden deserts, blue skies and mountains, and turtles and oceans and trees and all things loved by Mother Nature. To these children and their parents who helped them “finish” and “outline and letter” the mural, this was a demonstration that there is a “Live Earth” right there in Laguna Beach.

Oh, the day was awesome and the children, the parents, the teachers, the weather was awesome and I even forgot to remember that I am supposed to be ill. I was full of joy at their joy. That kind of energy is infectious and after all the images were painted and the handprints stamped onto the colorful border of the Earth Day mural, it was time to pack up and drive back down highway 101. There is always that moment when I leave any mural event, that I feel rise within my soul…it’s a tiny space that gnaws and tugs at my heart that wishes these moments could last forever, and that somehow, if everyone could feel like this or be made to feel like this, there would be an absence of violence indeed.

Normally, my mural story would end right here, but something very profound happened on the way to my car. One of the parents, who had devotedly washed brushes and at least 100 hands, was also readying to leave. I was admiring his car when he asked if he could ask me a question. He actually pulled the car over and as I looked upon his face, and to “paraphrase” what he said/asked was what I thought of the state of the world. He said that he had never known such a time of violence on our planet, that politics and wars and so many things seemed overwhelming and wrong. There was anguish in his voice and in his eyes and I felt my emotions rise in my throat. That moment of joy I had felt seemed as if it were to disappear and simply vanish
into the slight wind that had begun to blow.

But as I glanced over to where the mural lay drying and the chatter of the parents who had gathered and were chattering in wait for their children, I simply explained to him that this was one of the reasons why we do this project. I told him that I didn’t think we could change too many of the older people’s way of thinking and acting, but if children could learn at an early age to respect themselves and each other, we could see peace. Nourishing our souls with kindness, creativity, and communication through painting has no language, religious or ethnic barriers. It is there on the canvas that we all become one human family and it is our commonalities as humans that bind us together. It is sharing and teaching and learning and getting to know one another that makes what “Live Earth” is really all about. I learned something from him today too. I learned that we are not alone in our thinking and that just the fact that he stopped me to ask that question might mean that there are other kindred spirits and even may “older ones” who struggle with these worries about our children. For that I am thankful, for that I know we must continue to create global harmony one mural at a time, one mile at a time. Joanne Tawfilis March 14, 2007

Friday, March 9, 2007

Athens, Ohio 2007

Hi Joanne!
I was just following up to inform you that my team and I completed a peace mural here in our little college town of Athens, Ohio. The team organized a mural creation in Donkey Cafe, a quaint coffee shop in the heart of Ohio University's campus. We chose this venue because the public of Donkey cafe is unique, diverse, and quite expressive. It ended up being the perfect place for a public mural! We had so much fun taking part as peace ambassadors for the Art Miles Mural Project! The mural project has inspired me to do community projects in my hometown of Cincinnati, OH. It seems quite feasible now that I have actually completed a mural and understand the "steps to success!" Thanks for all your help.

Author: Leah Wainscott

Ohio University Student, Global Leadership Center
Final Reflective Paper

I was proud to be assigned the Art Miles Mural Project because I believe in the project’s objective to promote peace through the universal language of art. Creating a mural at Donkey Café was quite rewarding because my team did not have to encourage people to paint, they just did. The public came into the café and saw a blank 12ft x 5ft stretch of canvas, and were enticed to make their mark about world peace.
Amanda, Leah and Lauryn

Watching the mural be created was gratifying because it was intriguing to watch what people painted. The artists were quite diverse, but they all came together for the common goal of promoting world peace. I could not do my homework that day because I could not help but watch their every move with a gleaming smile (quite creepy to those who saw me staring, I am sure!)

We did in fact create one beautiful peace mural, but our original goal was to create three with three different organizations. I now know that three murals would be way too much to handle in a matter of weeks. The team also understands that despite the fact we had the plan to work with different organizations, we ended up not working with any one particular group of people. Our conclusion was that the public of Donkey Café was an ideal venue for an expressive peace mural because the customers are both liberal and creative. So despite the fact that most of our original plans fell through, the final project worked out quite nicely. The only thing I would do differently is not to depend on outside sources so heavily in the beginning. Since school was canceled so often, we could not complete a mural with Kids on Campus like we anticipated. We had done so much planning for this specific mural, and after 6 or 7 weeks passed, we realized time had run too short.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Jenna Elfman supports Art Miles

August 10, 2006

East Grinstead, Sussex, England: Jenna Elfman helped kick off the East Grinstead's Youth for Human Rights chapter's contribution to the Art Miles Mural Project.

This mural was painted by kids at the Steiner School in Brighton, England.

Sunday, January 9, 2005

To Beslan with Love

Joanne Tawfilis
January 9, 2005

I am weary. Weary to the bone. This weekend we painted for two full days with some of the most incredible young women I have ever met. But I am also elated and exhilarated when I look at this incredible mural painted by residents of House 8 from the Traiskirchen Refugee Center here in Vienna. The magic of mural painting continues. It seems unimaginable that these women, waiting in a transient mode for someone to determine the next step in their lives would give so generously of their time to paint a mural. Even though the Tsunami murals are simultaneously being painted on the walls of the Avenida Culture of Peace Galleria, we have not forgotten that there are hundreds of children and families in Beslan in need of psychological healing, and to be shown that they have not been forgotten. These are the times when the murals perform their real healing powers—by those who paint them, thinking all the while of how those children will feel, and those children who will see the work and love, and perhaps the children and families themselves that will paint murals in Beslan as the next step in the Art Mile Healing Process! These women worked laboriously on our heated gallery floors and created colors and motion and joy that will be certain to make the children and families in Beslan feel true joy. I can already see the smiles. If even for one moment or two, they can think of happier times and forget their trauma, then the murals will have done their magic.

And we owe much to the young coordinator (Teresa Martin from Spain)or House 8, who stayed with these women the entire time, despite the long hours she already extends to her daily and weekly work at the center a true display of passion and belief in them and us!

Maria and her Mother from Azerbajian came today to paint together. They tell me they are from a musical family and hope to reunite with their father/husband and brother that they have not seen for three years, sometime in the near future and who now lives in the Czech Republic. Both of them are stunning beautiful women. Maria is only 19 but has the sense and sensibility of someone much older and loves sunsets and flowers and black and white cows…and Sweden. She is an excellent artist and she also plays guitar. Her mother, a green eyed beautiful woman with thick red hair is an opera singer, and painted quietly beside her daughter, and among the other young women who laughed and painted in pure harmony. Teresa told me that they had performed a concert at the camp the night before. I can hear them singing the “Ave Maria.”

Tatiana, Ira and Hadijah came from the Ukraine…all three, tall and lovely and eager to add to the mural with their intricate designs and patterns of messages for Beslan. Ira is tall and thin and has huge brown eyes, sad and longing like cow eyes. I could feel her comfort and being here, but could also sense her feeling of being displaced. Her warmth was evident by her motherly and big sister caring attitude for Hadijah.

Julie is from India and small, frail, quiet, exotic looking as you can imagine and quietly painted her way across the entire mural! Together, they were like a symphony orchestra as they continued to paint until the mural was finished. People on the street were peering through the window staring at both the beautiful women and the incredible mural.

When my friend Linda arrived to help, her face was full of surprise as she could see the Beslan mural radiate from the floor and the Tsunami mural on the wall reach out to her soul…both communicating the desire to soothe the pain and heal the wounded hearts affected by these disasters.

The best part of the experience though, was the camaraderie and friendships that were formed and strengthened through this time together, by the common knowledge that each of us, despite our hardships, can still reach out to others. We ate lunch together, drank hot cups of steaming coffee and tea and learned much about how Teresa and these women represent the spirit of strength, determination, tolerance, and humor.

I know that sometimes our home seems like a “treff or meeting point” in an airport or train station and living in our gallery lessens our private time. However, my heart is filled with warmth and happiness and that the galleria is a friendly welcome place for all.

And although they live behind a fenced compound for now, they do have shelter and sustenance and most of all each other. I don’t think they will ever forget each other or this magical 2 days in the gallery. I know I never will, and each time I look at the mural (before we send it to Beslan with the Russian Ambassador on St. Valentine’s Day), it will be my heart that will swell with pride and remembrance of their sounds and faces and love that went into this special “To Beslan With Love” mural.

In less than 12 hours, 10 children will come from a school in the neighborhood to paint one of the Tsunami murals. Their teacher…a multicultural person herself tells me they are from 5 countries. It’s time to wash the brushes and get ready for them…