Artists in Transit is a collaborative arts project set up by Molly Daniel that delivers creative workshops to communities and people in times of hardship. On a recent trip, Artists in Transit travelled to Athens to deliver workshops to children and adult residents of a refugee camp involving doll-making, painting, photography, printing and sewing. Through a small team that consists of Daniel, her mother Sandra Daniel and her sister Nilufer Yanya, Artists in Transit aims to offer solidarity through the sharing of skills and joint experience. Gallery Girl caught up with Molly to find out more about the initiative.
GG: What prompted you to start Artists in Transit?
MD: I started volunteering and later working for a project called Love to Learn, helping at a homework club for children of refugee backgrounds. That summer me and my brother were considering going to a festival, one of my colleagues mentioned that she was going to festivals to collect tents and sleeping bags that had been left behind to take to Calais. It made me question the value of where my money was going so instead we spent two weeks in Kos volunteering: organising donations, giving out clothes and being there to meet people when boats came in. There were a lot of moments where parents or older family members were highly stressed and busy, so we would keep paper and felt tips in our bags to occupy the children. When we came home I knew I had to go back. During this time I was running art workshops with the homework club and so I decided to try and combine the two. I sat down with my mum and with her help we came up with some art projects, I sent this proposal to a camp and they said “come!” so that was it…we went!
GG: Your last trip to Athens resulted in the publication of a magazine called MY FRIEND, with all profits going towards return trips to Athens, can you tell me a little about the process of putting the zine together?
MD: Before we went on our trip I created some zine sheets for children, they had simple questions such as: “What do you want to be when you are older?” “What do you love? “ What do you hate?” I also created a list of triggers for photographs like what did you eat for dinner etc. I made little packs, which I gave them with pens, paper, translation sheets and a camera.
It took about a week to establish friendships and trust with the children and their families for them too feel encouraged to take part. It’s a very vague concept as there isn’t a tangible instant outcome but now that they’ve seen what was made they understand and the feedback has been amazing. Two of the girls got really into it and would come and find me every day and tell me how much they had done. They finished their cameras in one day so I came up with a quick project where they had to ask people to if they were happy and sad, take their picture and ask them to write a reason. When I got home I scanned everything and got busy! I had a few complications working out the purpose and audience: I intended to sell it to fund more workshops so I felt a pressure to make it appealing to a certain audience but at the same time I didn’t want to edit their work so I put in all their pictures and writing as primarily this was made to give back to the children who took part.
GG: Has there been a lot of interest from others wishing to volunteer their time to your workshops?
MD: On our first trip there was just me, my mum and my sister and a lovely stranger who found us on Instagram. I was quite worried about taking people along with me because I didn’t know what to expect myself so I didn’t really push it. However in the lead up to the second trip I had a lot of friends and friends of friends contacting me about coming and from that we built our team. Since then even more people have wanted to know more about what we do and how they can take part.
GG: What short-term and long-term impact do your workshops have? Have you seen any immediate benefits to your sessions?
MD: In the short term we create a welcoming space for children to express themselves artistically. You notice the benefits when you see how focused a child is on their work or just how attentively they are painting. A lot of the children we work with have very complex needs; their behavior at times is very challenging! For me watching a child who previously was trying to disrupt a session come and join us and immerse themselves in something positive, where they create something they are proud to take home is wonderful. Most of the children living in these situations have very disrupted lives, there is not much structure and things are changing constantly whilst at the same time they are in a moment of limbo and this is very boring for them. Having something to do that breaks up their day is great, children always are excited to see us and find out what we have planned for them.
Long-term impact is harder to gauge, I would hope that we have helped make happier memories in a harder period of their life and made lasting friendships with the families we have met. I would imagine in the future I may have more to say about this but for now I can’t be certain.
GG: You offer creative workshops for both adults and children, how do responses differ between age groups?
MD: The younger a child the less fear they have about creating a perfected finished product. Toddlers are inspiring, they grab a paintbrush and they go! They enjoy the process and have a very quick turnaround of work. I find the older we get the more we hold back creatively: the harder it is to let go and create. When we have worked with adults and teenagers I find it more important that volunteers participate and that the work includes a team element. For instance doing portraits of each other in pairs brings a group together and makes it less of a solo experience, this way people relax more, conversations are had and the art becomes a glue that brings us together in that moment.
GG: You collaborate with your mother and sister who are both artists, did you have an artistic upbringing and did this contribute to the inception of Artists in Transit?
MD: Yes! I grew up in a home where both parents were artists and there was a lot of emphasis on creating. We probably spent more time round the kitchen table doing still life then we did watching telly. As a child I have a lot of memories where we made something amazing cardboard play houses and dress up outfits out of paper.
GG: Your sister (Nilufer Yanya) is a singer, are there any plans to bring music into the workshops?
MD: We played around with music on our last trip and I would love to bring more workshops with us in the future. Music is a great tool for team building and also an incredible tool for learning. There is an amazing project called Angels Relief Team who have been taking music into refugee camps all over Europe and their work is incredibly inspiring, they even created an orchestra and performed.
GG: When we met, you had just returned from Greece and were planning on returning, are you planning to take Artists in Transit anywhere else?
MD: One of our core aims is to be really flexible as our work is applicable to a wide range or people; this means we could go anywhere.
I really want to do some more workshops in London, especially for homeless young people, as they are incredibly vulnerable and unfortunately rising in numbers. London is my home city so it would be very rewarding to be able to establish more work here. We really want to go to Turkey as there are a lot of grassroots organisations and projects doing amazing work that we would be keen to support. For 2018 we are working towards a two week programme in Ghana delivering art workshops alongside this amazing team called “The Five Girls Project”, so we will be busy fundraising for that!
GG: What’s next for Artists in Transit?
MD: This year I am hoping to officially launch Artist in Transit with an exhibition, alongside a fundraiser for our next trip. We are also working on creating more moving image with the young people we are working with and coming up with as many ways to encourage them to lead in creative projects. We are hoping to become a bigger team with a wide range of artists on board and a good community of support.
You can donate to Artists in Transit and buy a copy of MY FRIEND here.
Current fundraiser : https://gogetfunding.com/artists-in-transit/