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July 2013

Greetings from the Arts & Democracy Project!


On June 11th, the Arts & Democracy Project hosted Forced to Flee: Exiled Visions and Voices for Justice, a national conference call organized in collaboration with freeDimensional.  In this call we heard from refugee artists, artists forced into exile, cultural organizers and their allies, as they spoke about how they are using the power of art and culture to amplify the voices and visions of those forced to flee their countries of origin. Presenters included Sidd Joag, director of freeDimensional, Chaw ei Thein, Burmese artist and activist, Erika Berg, founder of Refugee Youth Empowered, Ova Saopeng, performance artist, cultural worker and co-creator of Refugee Nation. Todd Lester (Arts-Policy Nexus/Lanchonete.org/Queer Art) framed the call and Andrea Assaf (Art2Action) was the moderator and respondent.


In this e-newsletter, you will find the conference call recording as well as other resources related to the Forced to Flee call.



Chaw Ei Thein

Chaw Ei Thein is a painter and performance artist whose work stems from her contrasting experiences of growing up in a politically oppressive Burma and then shifting to a very different landscape in the United States. Chaw Ei's emotionally charged work addressing these conflicts in her native country has earned her critical acclaim, awards, and residencies in the U.S. and abroad. 

Refugee Nation Refugee Nation is an interdisciplinary theater performance about a young generation struggling to understand their history and the silence of an elder generation still healing from the traumas of war. Refugee Nation tells the stories the Laotian refugee community created by a U.S.-led secret war in Laos. Since 2005, collaborators Leilani Chan and Ova Saopeng have been collecting oral histories from family and community members across the country to create an interdisciplinary theater performance that explores a growing part of the Asian American Diaspora that is yet to be included as part of the American experience. 

Refugee Youth Empowered Refugee Youth Empowered is a visual storytelling project designed to empower refugee youth to (1) increase public awareness of refugee issues and aspirations while cultivating global citizenship in their non-refugee peers, (2) launch outreach efforts that build their cross-cultural community-building skills and partnerships, and (3) instill leadership skills that foster greater self-sufficiency and civic participation.


Forced to Flee Forced to Flee: Visual Stories by Refugee Youth from Burma was a sobering exhibition organized by Refugee Youth Empowered in 2012. It displayed never-before-seen paintings that give voice to haunting memories, struggles and irrepressible hopes of refugee youth from Burma (Myanmar). 

Finding Voice ProjectFinding Voice Project is an innovative literacy and visual arts program in Tucson, AZ dedicated to helping refugee and immigrant youth to develop their literacy and second language skills by researching, photographing, writing, and speaking out about critical social issues in their lives and communities. Youth work through the creative process to publishing thought-provoking pieces, which they share with the community through exhibitions, community forums, publications, public installations, and online.

Mapping Memories
Mapping Memories is a collaborative media project which uses personal stories and a range of media tools (video, sound walks, mapping, photography) to better understand the experiences of youth with refugee experience in Montreal. Our objective has been to produce creative work that will have an impact on policy, education, art and on the lives of the youth involved.



freeDimensionalfreeDimensional advances social justice by hosting activists in art spaces and using cultural resources to strengthen their work.  Based on the belief that creative expression fuels social justice movements, freeDimensional works with the global arts community to identify and redistribute resources, and support meaningful relationships between art spaces and activists.


Arts-Policy Nexus is a cross-cutting initiative of the World Policy Institute, directed by Senior Fellow Todd Lester.  It strives to connect socially engaged artists and policy-makers in order to create wider audiences which push for changes in individual behavior and public policy on issues that are crucial to our collective future

New TacticsNew Tactics in Human Rights helps human rights defenders work more effectively so they can achieve their goals and better address human rights violations around the world. They develop and share a range of online materials, including resources focused on arts and culture, offer trainings and mentoring, and facilitate a peer-to-peer on-line conversation that strengthens the global community of human rights advocates.


Article 19 envisions a world where people are free to speak their opinions, participate in decision-making and make informed choices about their lives. They campaign with people, monitor, research, publish, advise and advocate around the world to ensure the right to freedom of expression and each person's right to information.



FREEMUSE is an independent international organization which advocates freedom of expression for musicians and composers worldwide.  

Legacies of War raises awareness about the history of the Vietnam War-era bombing in Laos and advocates for the clearance of unexploded bombs. The organization uses art, culture, education, community organizing and dialogue to bring people together and create healing and transformation out of the wreckage of war.



Theatre Without Borders (TWB) is a network of international artists, theatres and organizations that share a common interest in international exchange. TWB advocates for theatre artists who see themselves as members of a global community as well as citizens of their respective nations and cultures.


  Creative Resistance Fund

Creative Resistance Fund provide small distress grants to people in danger due to their use of creativity to fight injustice. These situations may include verbal threats, imprisonment or legal persecution, violent attack, professional or social exclusion, or harassment. The fund may be used to evacuate a dangerous situation; to cover living expenses while weighing long-term options for safety; or to act on a strategic opportunity to affect social change.

Art Spaces Hosting Activism is a tactical notebook produced by freeDimensional with New Tactics in Human Rights that recounts the creative and collaborative process developed by freeDimenstional for using surplus resources to provide individual assistance and strengthen community engagement.  

Acting TogetherActing Together is a collaboration between the Peacebuilding and the Arts Program at Brandeis University and  Theatre Without Borders that explores the terrain where artists and peacebuilders engage people in creative acts of courage and moral imagination. They have produced Acting Together on the World Stage, an award-winning documentary, Acting Together: Performance and Creative Transformation of Conflict, a two-volume anthology about peacebuilding performances in regions beset by violence and internal conflicts, and Tools for Continuing the Conversation.

As always, we're proud to highlight the great work in this field to support and cross-pollinate an extraordinary network of artists, cultural workers, policymakers, educators, and activists. Please be in touch, and let us know what you think!
All our best,

Amalia, Caron, Kathie, Javiera, and Michelle
Arts & Democracy Project 
In This Newsletter
Theater & Performance
Visual Art & Media
Advocacy Organizations & Networks
Grants & Resources
Upcoming Events
Videos & Blogs

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Listen to our latest conference call recording!



Sandaya: Burmese Lessons 

July 11-14,18-21, 2013

Atlas Performing Arts Center

Washington, D.C.


This collaborative performance, conceived by Susan Galbraith and Kit Young with Chaw Ei Thein, explores the culturally rich artistry and complexity of the long troubled and still struggling Myanmar.


UNSPOKEN Human Rights Conference, Art, Music & Film Festival 

October 16-19, 2013

Utica, NY

unspoken film fest  UNSPOKEN is an annual human rights forum that combines film, art, music, and a conference into one festival. This multi-faceted forum seeks not only to give a voice to human rights violations from around the globe, but also to offer practical solutions in order to shape a better tomorrow and give hope to the future.   



Forced to Flee: Rebuilding Lives and Communities Through Art

 by Farisa Khalid

ForcedToFlee Farisa Khalid  


Artist in Exile: A Profile of Chaw Ei Thein

Artist in Exile: A Profile of Chaw Ei Thein


Refugee Nation: Q&A with Leilani Chan

by Tom Laventure, 

Asian American Press

Leilani Chan  


Forced to Flee: Visual Stories by Refugee Youth from Burma

an exhibit organized and curated by Refugee Youth Empowered.

Seattle Art Show 

 created by children at Rohingya encampment in South Delhi in collaboration with Refugee Youth Empowered.

Rohingya Visual Storytelling Workshop



The Arts & Democracy Project builds the momentum of a cultural movement that draws on a rich history of arts activism, social justice organizing, and grassroots engagement. Arts & Democracy Project is a sponsored project of State Voices. Thank you to the Nathan Cummings Foundation.