IAA and Invisible Children

March 28, 2012 at 10:37 am Leave a comment

IAA and Invisible Children
by Karin Obermeier, Humanities Faculty

How can you use your art to make a difference in the world?  Almost four years ago, this was a question—among quite a few others—that my former colleague, Martin Maaloumi, and I posed to the 9th-grade students in our History and English classes.  We wanted to go beyond the classroom, beyond just reading and writing and thinking about world cultures and literatures.  We challenged our students to go beyond making art mostly for ourselves at Idyllwild Arts.  Our students’ energetic and creative response was several months in the making, and has resulted in an ongoing relationship with Invisible Children, the San-Diego based organization whose “Kony 2012” video has been making news of late.

What have IAA students done to support Invisible Children?  In the spring of 2009 I had never heard of Invisible Children.  But after students completed extensive research on about 30 different NGOs (non-governmental organizations), this was the one they chose to support.  Students worked with each other and the “roadies,” who volunteer two to three months to facilitate the message of Invisible Children.  Together they created an event that was meant to inform, entertain, and inspire.  It was very much a work-in-progress, where IAA artists came together to design and sell a unique T-Shirt (along with IC merchandise), cook food, make persuasive presentations, and sing, dance, read poems, and make music—all in support of the thousands of Ugandan children and their families, who were suffering at the hands of Joseph Kony and his “Lord’s Resistance Army.”  That April we also participated in the Invisible Children international “Rescue” effort, when we went to San Diego with about 30 students for an overnight encampment to help bring greater media attention to the issues.  The IAA community has raised awareness of the “invisible children” of Africa, and close to $15,000 for IC.

Who is Invisible Children?  Invisible Children has come to the IAA campus three more times, each time providing updates on what was happening in Uganda and central Africa.  IC is not an NGO with a “colonialist” attitude that dictates what is needed and throws money at quick-fixes. Theirs are responsive programs initiated and run by local west Africans.  These programs include:  scholarships and funding for schools; economic development for women’s financial independence; an “early warning radio network” to set up to protect civilians, especially those living in remote areas; and the return to their families and rehabilitation for former LRA abductees.

The “Kony 2012” video has caused a world-wide online and social-media sensation.  It has certainly succeeded to make Joseph Kony and Invisible Children more visible, as well as to draw both thoughtful and often mean-spirited attacks on the organization, its methods, its financial allocations, and its co-founder Jason Russell.

The thoughtful critiques have raised justifiable and necessary questions about:

  • Invisible Children’s advocacy of continued, albeit limited, U.S. military support of the Ugandan army;
  • how it spends the money raised;
  • of its over-simplification of the issues in this area of the world;
  • of its “slick”, media-savvy film productions and campaigns;
  • of its motivations and attitudes in working with the people from Uganda, the DRC, and CAR.

Invisible Children has responded to the critiques in a detailed and transparent manner.  Go to http://www.invisiblechildren.com/critiques.html for their specific answers.

What next?  How can IAA students continue to be concerned and informed artists and citizens of the world?

“We are not just studying history, but are shaping human history.”  This is a quote from the “Kony 2012” video, whose message lies at the core of education and teaching our young people.  As is true of slogans, it may sound rather grandiose and over-reaching.  But, education needs to matter.  It should matter on a personal level, and in terms of community, however we choose to define it.  I know that IAA students’ involvement with Invisible Children has made a difference in our school community.  In the process, the then 9th-graders of 2009 overcame self-doubt, frustrations, and disagreements to feel connected to their fellow students, faculty, and staff.  They became connected to the IC “roadies” who have come to our campus over the last four years.  Today, as graduating seniors, many remain connected to IC because they recognize that their talents, time, and commitment can indeed make good and meaningful change happen.

We are not without our own critics:  students, faculty, administrators, parents who wonder about the validity and effectiveness of Invisible Children.  This is a conversation that we must keep going.  We can do this in our classrooms, in all-school meetings, on social media, in private conversations, in the art that we create.  Whether it is in continued support of Invisible Children—or in finding other worthy organizations—or in creating our own ways, we must continue to become connected to each other with compassion and action, here at IAA and in other communities throughout the world.

Entry filed under: Arts, special events, theories. Tags: , , , .

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