When refugees from Guatemala to Ethiopia found solace and joy in an Arizona art program, little did they know they’d also receive a presidential honor.
Tucson nonprofit Owl & Panther has been named a 2016 Finalist for the National Arts and Humanities Youth Award. It’s one of 50 programs nationwide honored by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.
“These outstanding programs are expanding horizons, changing lives, and helping young people fulfill their dreams, across America and around the world,” announced First Lady Michelle Obama. “Each of these programs is using achievement in the arts and humanities as a bridge to achievement in life.”
Many refugees resettled in Tucson are haunted by trauma, torture and fear. Many have been punished for speaking out in their countries and now struggle to communicate their stories. Owl & Panther offers adult and youth refugees the opportunity for self-expression, healing and connection through the universal language of art.
The refugees’ paintings and sculptures have been showcased in the Tucson Museum of Art’s “Museum as Sanctuary” exhibit and at a local library. These public shows help refugees feel a part of their new home, plus introduce the local community to this vibrant, varied and valuable population.
In addition, teenage refugees are learning filmmaking skills through the Owl & Panther Youth Film Project, run by documentary filmmaker Özlem Ayse Özgür. Working with University of Arizona student volunteers, the teens created two films this year: a self-portrait and a vision of what “home” means to them. This innovative program will continue with the support of the Lacey & Larkin Frontera Fund.
Owl & Panther is run by the Hopi Foundation, which has been working with refugee families since the 1980s Sanctuary Movement, a campaign to give safe haven to Guatemalans fleeing political violence.
The organization’s unusual name comes from a Cherokee creation story in which the owl and panther are given the power to see in the dark. Owl & Panther’s mission is to give refugees hope through art and community, helping them see through the darkness of their past.
To learn more and find out about volunteering, visit Owl & Panther.