A Day of Art and Joy for Refugee Children in New York
On Wednesday, August 31, the United Nations Association of New York partnered with several organizations to host a group of recently resettled refugee children and their parents at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Originally from Syria and Eritrea, the families that participated in the day are now resettled in Connecticut and New Jersey.
We journalists sometimes despair that there’s anyone left out there heeding our words and paying attention to our reporting. But stories can still have a powerful effect on readers.
Witness Kim Tamalonis, a resident of Greenwich’s backcountry who teaches art to sixth, seventh and eighth graders at Rye Middle School. In the summer of last year, Tamalonis noticed a difference in the number of stories about Syrian refugees, from a few to what she aptly calls “an onslaught of headlines” — headlines that increasingly drew attention to the refugees’ life-and-death struggles to find freedom, peace and security.
“We knew it was happening. It wasn’t as if we didn’t know it,” she says. “The whole world was watching. But it seems as if with the exception of a few brave reporters, the rest of us were bystanders for this reality TV. And I thought, What is happening to the world? What is it coming to?”
Tamalonis is talking over lunch at Le Pain Quotidien on Rye’s Purchase Street, where the warm French country flavors and atmosphere contrast sharply with the subject of conversation. Few are more aware of the disparity between our fortunate circumstances here and those of the refugees than Tamalonis, who is young in spirit in the way many teachers are. She decided to take up the refugees’ cause with 140 students and their parents.
“My students have the biggest hearts and they said, ‘Yes, we want to be part of this.’ And their parents were only too happy to help.”
The students collected 100 pounds of art supplies, which the Rye Post Office mailed — free of charge — to the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan through the Seattle-based nonprofit Studio Syria.
The students created artwork that was exhibited at The Rye Arts Center, along with notecards that could also be purchased. (The notecards were sold at Rye’s Arcade Booksellers as well.) The result was more than $3,100 for the Blossom Hill Foundation in New Canaan, which creates programs for children in conflict zones.
But Tamalonis wanted to do more than this, so she got in touch with Hagar Hajjar Chemali, the founding CEO of Greenwich Media Strategies, LLC, whose many titles with the federal government included director for Syria and Lebanon at the National Security Council. Chemali led her to Church World Service, the relief, development and refugee assistance arm of the National Council of the Churches of Christ, which in turn led her to the CWS’ Jersey City, New Jersey, refugee resettlement office and a group of Syrian, Ethiopian and Eritrean children. Although you may think that the refugees’ challenges are over once they pass the rigorous, yearlong screening process to get here, that is far from true, Tamalonis says. They must repay the loan for their transport to America. They have only eight months of medical care and three to six months of income. Tamalonis was determined to give 24 children and some mothers an artistic respite. She would take them to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where her mother was a volunteer docent. Getting The Met, which has a strong tradition of art education, on board was easy. Renting a bus was more of a hurdle, but through the GoFundMe link on Facebook, friends and supporters from as far as California came through. (The organization and business sponsors were J&R Tours, Inc., Mrs. Green’s in New Canaan, Pace Prints, The Rye Arts Center and Starbucks in Greenwich.)
On Aug. 31, the group set out for its art day, meeting up at the museum with a refugee family recently settled in Greenwich. In The Met’s Ruth and Harold D. Uris Center for Education, museum President Daniel H. Weiss addressed the group before the mothers got a whirlwind tour of The Met with curatorial assistant Harout Simonian and the children enjoyed sketching and interactive experiences in the Islamic galleries with artist Azi Amiri. At the end of the day, Ann Nicol, executive director of the United Nations Association of New York, presented each child with a backpack of school supplies. And Hadi Hajjar — a successful businessman of Lebanese descent who had accompanied the group — gave them bags filled with what Tamalonis calls “joyful and practical things” like games and clocks.
That day of art has inspired Tamalonis. She wants to start a nonprofit, buy a bus for future trips, publish a book of the refugee children’s experiences and start a speakers’ bureau so that the refugee families — whose stories are in demand — can get paid for their public appearances. She carries with her memories of that day — the children presenting her with Syrian food that the mothers had packed in Tupperware containers for the trip and the kids, who did not necessarily know one another, instantly bonding.
“They were singing Syrian folk songs. They were just so happy to be on the bus on a field trip.”
Her eyes brim with tears and darn if yours don’t too as you realize that this is one woman who will never be a bystander to history.
369 Round Hill Road, Greenwich, CT 06831
Manhattanville College – Masters Degree in Teaching Art, 1998
Rye City School District, Rye, NY, 2005-present
Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Grade Art Teacher, Rye Middle School AP Studio Art Teacher, Rye High School, 2005-2011
Greenwich Academy, Greenwich, CT, 1995-2005
Saturday in the City and Summer in the City Art Tour Coordinator, Spring Break European Art Tour Coordinator, Studio I, Studio II and Photoshop Art Teacher
Dahesh Museum , New York, New York, 2003
Guest Artist and Education Program Consultant
Metropolitan Museum, New York, New York, 1999
Assistant Drawing Teacher – Sunday mornings – (teacher: Randy Williams)
Creative Connections, Ridgefield, Connecticut, 1996-1997
Art Link Coordinator – coordinated art exchanges between US schools and schools abroad
French Embassy – Cultural Service Intern – Cultural Service Division, Cairo, Egypt, 1994
In-the-works: Refugee pot-luck dinner and Linked-In resumé building event, which I am coordinating with the UNA-NY and with Linked-In, 2017
Free Arts at the Brant Foundation, Greenwich, CT 2016
Teacher –day-long event, made art with children from New York City homeless shelters
Metropolitan Museum, New York, NY, 2016
Coordinator for a one-day art program for child refugees. I initiated the event, collaborated with Church World Service to gather participants from two states, collaborated with the United Nations Association-NY on a send-off ceremony, found 7 translators to volunteer, arranged transportation, and brought refreshments. The museum arranged for the president, Daniel Weiss to give an introductory speach, they ran art workshops in the Islamic Galleries for the kids and they arranged a museum-wide tour for the parents.
Blossom Hill Foundation, New Canaan, CT, 2015
Coordinator, Curator – Rye Middle School art students’ exhibit to benefit the Blossom Hill Foundation’s programs for Syrian child refugees
Studio Syria, Seattle, WA, 2015
Art Supply Drive Coordinator. Collected 100 pounds of supplies for children in the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Supplies delivered by 501c3 Studio Syria.
Rye City School District, Rye, NY, 2014 – 2015
Young Collectors’ Organization (YCO) – ran 6 voluntary Saturday trips to galleries, museums, art fairs and print shops, exposing students to the contemporary art market.
Free Arts at the Brant Foundation, Greenwich, CT 2015
Teacher –day-long event, made art with children from New York City homeless shelters
Maria Ferari Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical center, Valhalla, NY 2001-2004
Art Committee Member – committee established during the children’s hospital construction to develop a child friendly contemporary art collection that would double as an investment
Northern Westchester Hospital, Mount Kisco, NY, 2003
Curator – Initiated rotating art program and curated inaugural exhibit, including work from thirty-two artist on four hospital floors
Akanksha Schools, Mumbai, India – collaboration with Greenwich Academy, Greenwich, CT, 2001
Service Trip to India – Art Program Coordinator
Music Maker Relief Foundation, North Carolina, 2001
Cover art and Layout Design – “Eddie Tigner” CD
Graphic Design and Layout – “Captain Luke and Cool John” CD
“Letter: Global Emergency Response for Syria Needed Now!” 2015
– Round Hill Color Mill, Greenwich, CT, 2012
“Boy Bubbles” – Middle grade novel about the trials and tribulations of a band of 13 year-old friends. – UnpublishedAWARDS:
Rye Middle School Point-of-Pride Award – coordinating student efforts to help Syrian refugees was elected as 2016 pride of the school
2010 Rye High School Distinguished Service Award – for teaching, 2007-2008 school year
ETS/College Board – Greenwich Academy earned the highest AP Art scores in the world for the school size, 2005 – I was the foundations level teacher, commended on the award
ART IN BUSINESS COLLECTIONS:
Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital at Westchester Medical Center, Valhalla, NY Northern Westchester Hospital, Mount Kisco, NY
Greenwich Academy, Greenwich, CT
ART IN PRIVATE COLLECTIONS: Including (but not limited to):
James & Mimi Rosenquist, Lawrence Benenson, Sydie Lansing, Dorianne Hutton, Bill Lucado, Carolyn and Malcolm Weiner
ART ON TELEVISION
“Night Stars 1” & “Night Stars 2”- Bravo Network, Gallery Girls in September 2012
RH Gallery, New York, New York, “Single Fare 3” – Group Show, 2013
Bendheim Gallery, Greenwich, CT, “Prints: Another Look” – Group Show, 2013
IFPDA Fair at the Park Avenue Armory, Dorianne Hutton Fine Art, New York, NY, 2012
Bendheim Gallery, Greenwich, CT – Group Show, 2012
Sloane Fine Art, New York, New York, “Single Fare 2” – Group Show, 2011
IFPDA Fair at the Park Avenue Armory, Dorianne Hutton Fine Art, New York, NY 2011 IFPDA Fair at the Park Avenue Armory, Dorianne Hutton Fine Art, New York, NY 2010
Luchsinger Gallery, Greenwich, CT – Group Show, 2005
Luchsinger Gallery, Greenwich, CT – Group Show, 2004
Saks Fifth Avenue, Greenwich, CT– One-woman Show, 2002
Luchsinger Gallery, Greenwich, CT– One-woman show, 1999
A day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which was originally planned to benefit recently resettled refugee children, uplifted all participants with great joy. Young kids to the most erudite museum administrators spent the afternoon laughing, learning, creating, bonding, and spontaneously singing in celebration.
On August 31st, around 25 recently resettled refugee children will create art at one of New York City’s museums. We can not include additional people at the museum, but if you have ideas about how to fill the day with joy, please let me know. One donor will provide school supplies to kids. I plan to give each child an art kit. If you would like to contribute to the bus or in other ways, please contact me (contact form below).
URGENT: (Extremely Time Sensitive)
Dear Foundations and Philanthropists,
Please help with an August 31st workshop for refugee children who have resettled in the New York area. Successfully pulling details together within an extremely tight time window will determine whether or not 25 kids participate.
by Kim Tamalonis
Children at Za’atari Refugee Camp photographed by Jean Bradbury
During the summer of 2015, daily news reports covered mass genocide in Syria and refugees’ perilous journey to escape. While puzzling indifference or fear of involvement paralyzed official international relief efforts, non-government organizations and good Samaritans furiously scrambled to address refugees’ needs. My students and I felt compelled to help.
Rye Middle School students embraced the challenge to use art to aid Syrian kids. Students collected 100 pounds of supplies from their homes. In class, they made hundreds of pocket-sized sketchbooks. Employees at our local post office gathered funds to transport boxes from Rye to Seattle based non-profit Studio Syria. Studio Syria founder, Jean Bradbury, then brought the art supplies to children at the Za’atari Refugee Camp in Jordan.
My students prepared for a show at the Rye Arts Center, where their art would be sold. We donated proceeds from the November show to the Blossom Hill Foundation‘s programs for Syrian children. The Blossom Hill Foundation, founded by Shiva Sirram, helps children from many nations who have been victimized by war.
Students in all grades made projects that were based on a simple story. While the story echoed the refugee migration in a child-friendly way, the Rye kids customized plots and characters.
Basic Story: There was once a thriving planet. Over time, peace and harmony dissolved. Young Genius decided it was time to leave. The brave adventurer retreated into a secret hideaway to plan an exodus. Others, bearing skills that could contribute to a new civilization, joined Young Genius in planning a great migration. Among the crew was a farmer, a doctor , a wizard and even a geneticist, who packed a suitcase containing cell samples from all the animals in the land. Together, the crew built a spaceship and blasted into orbit, where they identified a new planet to make their home. When the spaceship doors opened, the crew was welcomed by new friends, who offered to share their planet, as long as everyone lived in harmony. A rich new joint culture emerged. After many years, strengthened by new skills and knowledge, Young Genius and crew returned to save their old planet.
And everyone lived happily ever after.
Sixth graders envisioned the Genius character’s secret workshop. Their art doubled as a game board. As players navigate the game, they collect materials needed for starting lives in a new land.
The seventh graders created cut-paper collages that illustrated life on the new planet.
Eighth graders envisioned the exodus crew, chosen for their skills by Young Genius.
Kids in all grades created 3D paper animals that represented gene samples that Young Genius and crew would bring to the new world.
All students who wished to have their art professionally printed on gift cards, were asked to raise $20 on their own. The cards were shuffled, turned into assorted gift boxes, and sold at the Rye Arts Center and at Arcade Book Store.
Passionate students showed up at the Rye Arts Center on the night before the opening, to help hang the exhibit. During the reception, the same self-motivated kids took responsibility for art sales, refreshments and tours, without being asked to help. Blossom Hill Foundation trustee Jehanne Anabtawi spoke to Rye families about programs in place to help Syrian child refugees.
Proceeds from the show that Rye Middle School students donated to the Blossom Hill Foundation from the sale of original art and mixed gift card boxes totaled $3100.00
* Run an art workshop for recent child refugees in the New York metro area. Provide supplies and instruction to the Syrian children, so they can create their versions of the game board project and of the story.
Wish List: Include a trip to the Metropolitan Museum, where a curator could show the Syrian kids examples of Syrian art in the museum’s collection.
* Find a publisher to print a coloring book, including both the Rye Middle School art and the Syrian children’s art, from which profits would aid refugees.
I kept copies of around 100 6th grade game board line drawings. A combination of line drawings and finished art could create a stunning coloring book.
Paula Fung Interviews Rye Students and Art Teacher Kim Tamalonis for Rye TV, Rye Record Coverage of Rye Arts Center Exhibition, Editorial for the Greenwich Free Press, Article in the Blossom Hill Foundation Newsletter
Paula Fung interviews art teacher, Kim Tamalonis, and several Rye Middle School students about their work to help Syrian children.