Raising International Awareness Through Art

By Beacon Staff

A Whitefish High School student club is looking to provide the Flathead community with worldly perspective through the power of youthful expression during dark times.

STAND, the high school’s student Anti-Genocide Coalition, will host an art show on May 13 featuring the poignant work of children from Darfur who now live in refugee camps along the border of Sudan and Chad.

Ten canvasses and 10 paper prints tell each child’s story, evoking memories of their homes in Darfur before violence forced them out. The art is jarring – what initially look like regular, rudimentary children’s drawings take on a more disquieting quality once the subject matter is comprehended.

Colorful crayon and pencil creations contain scenes of death, fear and brutality. The art is immediately thought provoking, which is exactly why the club chose it.

“It’s a way that people can connect to it easier,” said STAND president and Whitefish High senior Sydney Gillette. “You can see children are drawing these images because that is what they’ve seen.”

Darfur is a war-torn region in Western Sudan, where internal conflict has resulted in the deaths hundreds of thousands of people and the relocation of millions, according to anti-genocide groups.

Student groups on college campuses began taking notice, forming Students Taking Action Now: Darfur, or STAND, to raise awareness of the situation happening in the Sudan.

Now, STAND represents all anti-genocide causes, Gillette said. The Whitefish High School chapter of the group has put on several events since its inception two years ago, including showing informative documentaries.

STAND club members said that while they do appreciate raising any money they can, which in part goes to supporting an Ethiopian child they sponsor, their main goal is bringing awareness of a major world event to Northwest Montana.

“I think it’s good to have a knowledge of what’s happening in the world besides just what’s happening in our little community,” said club member Eli Watts.

Watts, a 17-year-old junior, said he joined the club as a freshman because he learned about what was happening to the people of Darfur and wanted to help any way he could.

“I feel like it’s our responsibility to help those who can’t help themselves,” Watts said. “It’s just a little thing to do that can make a big difference.”

Club member Justine Dugdale, also a 17-year-old junior, said she was drawn to the club out of a pre-existing interest in humanitarian activities. After spending a summer volunteering in Africa, Dugdale said she realized there is much more going on in the world than is typically seen on the daily news.

Having an event like the May 13 art show can bring the idea home for many people, Dugdale said, because nearly everyone can sympathize with the plight of children.

“It will hopefully bring more of a connection because you’ll be seeing the art face to face,” Dugdale said.

Along with the artwork, there will also be refreshments and information available. Gillette said the club will also be selling wristbands, proceeds from which will go to i-ACT, the anti-genocide organization providing the children’s artwork.

The club’s advisor, Matt Holloway, said STAND was formed by former Whitefish High student Josh Schott, who also pushed for legislation in 2009 requiring the state Board of Investments to divest investments in certain companies that conduct business with Sudan.

The legislation failed, but it helped shed light on the situation, Holloway said.

“It’s a complete travesty what’s happening over there,” Holloway said. “It’s just amazing to me and a lot of other people how we’re not paying any attention to it. It’s very typical of our culture – unless your house burns down, you’re not going to worry about it.”

While STAND is still a small club, Holloway said they are internally motivated and require little oversight once they have a goal. The club members also have a sense of duty to help humanity, Holloway said, even if that help is through small events like an art show in Whitefish.

“We can do something from here and every little bit counts,” Holloway said.

The STAND art show will take place on May 13 at the Whitefish Middle School auditorium at 7 p.m. Entry is free. For more information, visit www.standnow.org.

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