Commitment, Community, Cooperation

Creative Exchange

In Refugees & Immigration on September 23, 2011 at 12:28 pm

Building Community with Refugees through the Arts

 Creative Exchange aims:

To offer an opportunity for refugees to share artistic expressions of their experiences and feelings.

  • To create a supportive community for refugee youth.
  • To use the arts to help them tell their stories of conflict and resettlement.
  • To use these artistic products to educate the public about the effects of conflict and resettlement on young people.
  • To offer the broader Lexington community opportunities to discover more about the many assets refugees bring with them.


Kentucky Refugee Ministries; EnterChange Clinical Counseling; Fayette County Schools

Therapeutic Art Project

Since 1990, Kentucky Refugee Ministries (KRM) has placed over 5,300 political refugees in various Kentucky communities. In 2009, the Lexington office of KRM settled 230 refugees in the Lexington area. With the current political instability in many countries, there is every reason to believe the number of refugees arriving in Lexington will not decrease any time soon.

Before coming to live in Lexington, most refugees have experienced horrific trauma and are still dealing with the aftermath. Upon arrival, they are still in survival mode, scrambling to secure housing, food, clothing, employment, etc.

When fleeing the country in which they were persecuted, refugees also left behind the only social, emotional, and cultural support they have ever known. And because most do not know English, there is no means of reaching out for support here in their new country. Through translators, gesturing, and intermittent concrete grasps of American English, refugees eventually make known their most basic survival needs.

However, there are limited means by which to express the less concrete thoughts of their emotional trauma.  There are limited ways of reaching out for help for dealing with the piercing ache of seeing their fathers and brothers gunned down before their very eyes. No second-hand translation which can adequately convey the overwhelming sense of terror/rage/helplessness that refuses to leave after watching their mothers and daughters raped. No elementary word in a bilingual dictionary to express the constant longing for the time before the trouble began, for a home which does not exist anymore, for people who are not alive anymore.

There is an incredible need for refugees in Lexington to express their past and present experiences of displacement, conflict, and trauma through a non-threatening, therapeutic outlet. Artistic expression provides such an outlet. Helping refugees express themselves through artistic media would not only provide a means of conveying/coping with their traumatic experiences, it would also build a bridge of communication between refugees and their new community, allowing them to forge a new means of social and emotional support.

A picture really is worth a thousand words.  Artistic expression allows the refugees to immediately communicate, to themselves and to their new community, the question of “Who I Am.” The high level of communication and cultural understanding required to communicate this verbally normally takes years to master, bypassing the crucial bonding time with the new community and creating a situation in which the refugees live among-but-separately from their new community.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: