Colors of Connection was founded by two friends, Laurie Reyman and Christina Mallie, who shared a passion for humanitarian work and love for the African continent.
Two things spurred its’ founders to create the organization. The first was the belief that art has an incredible power to impact people’s lives for the better: to transform, change and heal. The second was the conviction that there is a real and unmet need for psychosocial support for individuals and communities who face the stark and immensely challenging reality of rebuilding after war.
In 2010, Laurie was running the regional sub-office and programming for an international NGO in the remote and underdeveloped town of Harper in post-war Liberia. Harper is a place stunning in its natural beauty, and were it not for its devastating history, it has all the aspects of a seaside tropical paradise. At night one can imagine that Harper is a picturesque town, nestled between hills and next to a bay and ocean, but by daylight the physical landscape reveals its history of destruction and poverty. During the 14-year civil war the town’s infrastructure was burned and looted. Since the war ended in 2003, development in Harper, and in the southeast in general, had been very slow. Visual remnants of the war were everywhere, particularly the burnt-out shells of buildings left to crumble and become overgrown with vines.
Laurie could only imagine what memories these physical reminders triggered for those who had suffered through the war in this place. People had lost family members and friends, their homes and their livelihoods, and she worried about the psychological implications for the people who continued to live in an environment that spoke so much of the war. She wondered what difference it might make for people to be able to transform these visual reminders into something beautiful and hopeful; something that portrayed a vision of a positive future, something healing and inspiring.
Laurie reached out to Christina, her friend who was an artist and educator in New York at the time with the idea. Together they developed this concept into a pilot project with the plan to engage 8 schools, 56 youth, and a council of local leaders to create 4 murals in public spaces around the town. They named the pilot project Visions of Hope with the stated goal: to bring people together and transform the physical landscape of the town into a positive visualization of the future people hoped for Harper and Liberia. They believed that this infusion of creative energy would be a catalyst for the community to move forward.
Art is usually at the bottom of the list of priorities in humanitarian assistance. But it was clear in this situation, where the country was heavily dependent on international aid, and artistic creativity was given little attention, that many people felt helpless, dependent, and stagnant. The success of the pilot project confirmed that art has a special transformational power to awaken people’s capabilities and inspire them to enact further positive change in their own life and in their community. Since then, the success of each successive project has deepened the commitment of Laurie and Christina to continue this much-needed and unique work.
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