The National Art Honor Society at Cranston High School East recently completed a project that touches children without families on the other side of the world.
Jill Cyr, visual arts program supervisor for Cranston Public Schools and sponsor of the National Art Honor Society’s Cranston East chapter, has been working with junior and senior students on portraits for The Memory Project, a nonprofit that provides original art to orphaned children in countries experiencing conflict, extreme poverty, or both.
This year, 11 portraits were created by Cranston High School East students who have achieved both an advanced level of art education and have maintained an academic average of B+. The students, after receiving a photo, age and the favorite color of a child living in an orphanage by The Memory Project, were tasked with creating a portrait that would be hand-delivered to the child by the organization.
This academic year proved challenging because most students were learning from home. Students completed their projects remotely with the assistance of Jill Cyr, via Google Meets instead of in-person meetings. Students chose their mediums, either traditional (paint, pencils, pastels, etc.) or digital, and submitted their completed pieces to Cyr.
Each submission to The Memory Project carries a $15 fee per piece, which the group was unable to raise this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. Cyr explained that in the face of this difficulty, she appealed to the Thunderbolt Alumni Association, who awarded her group a mini grant of $165 to cover the project’s fees.
Artwork was then shipped to The Memory Project founder, Ben Schumaker, who, under normal circumstances, hand-delivers the art to the children. He explained he was unable to bring the items himself this year due to the pandemic, and that the organization chose to ship students’ portraits via DHL instead.
Schumaker founded the project in 2004, explaining it was his hope to have it continue to grow in as many U.S. schools as possible, but that the organization has had to scale back significantly due to the pandemic.
This year, he said, he worked with organizations running six orphanages in India.
Cyr described herself as passionate about the project, adding: “When I think about this organization, it tugs at my heartstrings.”
“These kids don’t have technology to capture their likeness,” she said, making the finished products highly valuable to their recipients. “Once the students understand the main purpose of the project, they’re so driven to create that portrait for that child.”
Completing this project allows participating students to receive community service hours that count towards their inductions into the National Art Honor Society. They are required to perform 10 hours of service per school year.
Rising senior Mathilda Corcoran said she chose to create a traditional drawing of her child, 12-year-old Pinky, in graphite and colored pencil. She explained it was a challenge to ensure the portrait captured the child accurately. Corcoran explained that creating the art felt comfortable and relaxing for her.
Maria Silva, a second rising senior who completed her portrait in pencil, said, “I wanted to make sure the features looked right and the portrait resembled the child I was drawing because I wanted him to see the picture and be able to see himself.”
The child she drew was Raji, 14, from India.
“I’m really happy that my artwork would be shared with someone else,” she said, “because I’ve never really had anyone else own something that I’ve done.”
Participants receive a video at the conclusion of the project that highlights the art created by students all over the country and the children who received it. Cyr explained that due to privacy concerns, there is no direct contact between her students and the children who receive their art, but that the gesture is greatly appreciated by all recipients.
Cyr intends to participate in this project with her juniors and seniors during the 2021-22 school year.
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