High Museum of Art
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High Museum of Art

At This Refugee School in Georgia, Art Empowers Girls to Transform Their Lives — and Our World

With access to art at the High Museum, girls gain the tools of expression to tell their incredible stories and become powerful actors of change.

By Eva Berlin, Digital Content Specialist, High Museum of Art

We talked with Amy Pelissero, the Head of School at Global Village Project in Clarkston, Georgia—the most ethnically diverse square mile in America. Watch the video below, and read on to learn how she sees experiences at the High transforming the lives of her students.

What is the Global Village Project?

Global Village Project is a very special school. It is specifically designed to serve refugee girls who are new to the country and have only been able to get started in their academic studies. They mostly come from places that have experienced severe conflict and war, and they’ve missed years of formal schooling due to displacement and movement as refugees. Most of them come to us with an education level somewhere between kindergarten and second grade.

They dream of graduating high school, graduating college, and giving back to their families and communities. So, we offer an accelerated, innovative, and highly individualized program for each girl.

How did your partnership begin with the High Museum?

We had recently changed our school’s mission to integrate the arts as a crucial component of our foundational education for our students. I met Kate McLeod, the High’s Head of School and Teacher Services, and I was surprised from the very beginning at how eager she was to hear about our students — to learn about what we thought they needed, our suggestions for working together, and how she took all of those things to heart.

In the fall of 2016, we started bringing our students here. It was amazing. We came for 12 sessions, and our students had so much fun and learned so much.

I was amazed by the teaching artists at the High and how incredibly skilled they are. These students have tremendous things to share, and the teaching artists have been so good at meeting the students where they are, encouraging them, trying to build their confidence, and believing in them. Everyone was so kind and generous, and willing to have us back again.

Almost every single student that I’ve ever talked to about her experience here has said that she had never been to a museum before coming here to the High Museum of Art. They always come back smiling and say that they can’t wait for the next High Museum day.

Support programs like this one that bring students to the High Museum of Art, and consider making a donation to the High’s Annual Fund.

How are the girls affected by their experiences at the High?

It’s incredibly important for students like ours to come to a museum and see art from all around the globe. They may not think of what they know and what their culture produces as valuable, but here they see that all kinds of people, places, and artworks are considered important and worth learning about.

It helps them see themselves in the world in a different way. They can see themselves as creators and artists and people capable of adding their story to other stories. It is powerful for them to be able to express things through art.

Why is it important for young women to be able to come and experience art?

People will often ask why Global Village Project is just for girls and not for boys as well, and I will explain to them that the millions of unschooled people in the world are women and girls. And the millions who are considered illiterate are also women and girls.

So, when I think about the power of this program at the High Museum of art for young women like ours — who are coming from spaces that may have very different ideas and norms about women and their education and their futures — I think about the power of literacy. That’s my background. Art is another type of literacy.

For me, literacy is not just reading a book or writing. It’s how we know the world and then act on it. It’s what we can do. It’s how we’re empowered.

By being here at the High, the students are seeing people use their art to be literate, to make commentary on their world, to change their world, to transform their lives. They can see, through the work they do with the teaching artists, that they, as young women, also have the opportunity to do that themselves. When they share their stories and their art, they are powerful and capable of creating change not only in their own lives but also in the lives of others and in the world.

If you’re interested in contributing to programs like this one that bring students to the High Museum of Art, consider making a donation to the High’s Annual Fund.

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