unabridged history below
My name is Sam Matthews and I am the creator of Art Across Borders. I have a BA in fine art from Gordon College and have worked with children in different capacities for about 10 years. I have a wild passion for people, different cultures, and beauty and I am so grateful for the opportunities that I have had to travel in my short life on this green earth. I believe that it is important to go through hard things in life and challenging one’s self to live outside of your comfort zone is really where life begins.
Where Art Across Borders began
(the short version)
Between 2011-2015 I traveled and did creative work in four different countries where my passion for kids and giving them a creative outlet grew with every mile I traveled. By the time I had to create my senior thesis exhibition at Gordon College I knew that I had to portray my experiences and passion and decided to title my show “Art Across Borders” (see artist statement below in unabridged version). After graduation I spent time creating my own art but had a dream to start my own mobile art studio that served as a creative outlet for the kids in my community and anywhere my future mobile art studio could take us. The idea for a mobile art studio came from my experience working for Art Feeds, a non profit based in Joplin, MO (artfeeds.org) and I owe so much of inspiration to them.
A year after graduation, after many months of planning and dreaming, I had found Flo, purchased her, and had her shipped to New Jersey to begin her transformation into the Art Across Borders Mobile Art Studio. It has been a fun and wild two years but I am thrilled to continue this adventure and finally get out into the community, bring art making right to people’s homes and events, and watch as people cross borders within themselves through art making.
For those of you who would like a little more reading material and want to know more about the history of Art Across Borders here is the unabridged version including my artist statement from my exhibition and the text that corresponded with each section of the show.
I was born into a family of artists and always knew that I had do something with my passion for art making. I never aspired to be a gallery artist because I wanted my art to serve a different purpose. I love people a whole lot, especially little ones, and over the years I have been amazed at how art can transform their lives no matter what country they are in. In highschool my stepdad had bought a VW camper bus and he and I worked on “Monro” together. I painted the outside with murals and soon Monro was an icon in our town. Tragically Monro burned down while I was away at school due to an engine complication (everyone inside including our dog was unharmed). I always wanted our family to get another bus but the timing was never right. After interning for Art Feeds in Joplin Missouri (read more about them in the experience section below). I was filled with so much inspiration especially after working along side their mobile art center, Van Gogh (gifted to them by Extreme Maker Home Edition), and hoped that someday I could do similar work. When it came time for me to create my senior art thesis exhibition at Gordon College I realized that I had traveled to four different countries over the course of four years, each of them being a key chapter to the development of passion for creative outlets for kids. Below is my artist statement from my show as well as the text that went a long with each section of my exhibiton.
La Escuela Esperanza de Bastion
This is where it all began. La Escuela Esperanza de Bastion or Hope of Bastion School located in the concrete jungle that is Bastion Popular, Guayaquil, Ecuador. After two trips to Ecuador on missions trips during highschool I developed a heart for the children of that community. The Lord then provided an opportunity for me to teach art classes for a few weeks after my first year at Gordon. A friend and I traveled together and were welcomed with open hearts into the Block 6 community in Bastion. Once in the classroom we quickly learned that we were taking part in a very important part of these kid’s lives. In the school systems there, creative expression is not always something that the curriculums spend time developing but rather teaches that memorization and being able to replicate the example given by the teacher is what is accepted. This became glaringly apparent when we asked the students to draw a simple drawing that would then get filled in with mosaic like paper and were met with blank stares. We were asked to show our example in order for them to copy the project as best as they could. This situation immediately brought our interactions with the students to a new level because we were able to talk with them about creative freedom. The truly incredible part about our time in the school was noticing those kids who had that creative spark watching them truly express themselves with no fear.
Gordon IN Orvieto
Fall of my junior year I was accepted into the Gordon-In study abroad program in Orvieto, Italy. Eighteen of us from six different colleges lived in a renovated convent and were immersed in community living. Together we learned how to see beauty in the ordinary, ask hard questions, pray, not just through our words but through the work that we made and so much more. It was in this medieval hilltop town that I began to realize the connections and vast differences between my time in Ecuador and the life I was currently living. Very early on in a child’s life in the states they are handed crayons and other creating supplies. Children in Italy are surrounded by ancient beauty and are living in the birthplace of arguably some of the most beautiful art in the world. Simply acknowledging the cultural differences between my time in Ecuador and Orvieto was not enough for me. I came to realize that I wanted to help build creative outlets for kids, especially for those living in societies where there is not much emphasis on the arts.
My passion for kids and creativity kept growing and while I was praying about how to best pursue my new developed passion, I stumbled upon Art Feeds’ website. Art Feeds is a non-profit organization based in Joplin Missouri that facilitates creative expression through therapeutic art and creative education for elementary school kids in multiple cities in the Midwest. After Joplin was devastated by the tornado in 2011, the founders of Art Feeds recognized the need for creative expression in all classrooms and started whole school programing instead of just working within the classrooms with children who have special needs. Art Feeds is successfully doing what my heart has grown love and I was able to intern for them in the summer of 2014. I worked in all parts of the organization and was able to live out my dreams and passions that had been growing for years in a new environment. One of the many wonderful aspects of working for Art Feeds was the fact that I was able to speak my native language and built relationships with incredible people who have the same heart and passions as I do.
Before my internship in Joplin, a friend of mine who is the founder of ROCK International (Relief Opportunity and Care for Kids) told me about a youth development center that they were building in his village in Niger, West Africa. I shared my passion for creative outlets for kids of different cultures and he invited me to be a part of the planning of their Art program within the center. The past experiences that I had up to that point were all preparing me for this opportunity. The Lord provided an opportunity for me to visit Niger over Christmas break and I was able to get a glimpse at what life is like in the village of Kwara Tagi where the center is being built. Generous donations were made and I brought over suitcases full of art supplies that will soon be used by the center. The center hopes to challenge and expand the minds of the nation’s youth in a creative way that breaks down the walls of memorization and mere duplication of the status quo, similarly to the situation in Ecuador. Rather than teaching kids what to think, the art center seeks to use all forms of art to expand the boundaries of their minds in order for them to see their God-given potential and see their nation NOT in the light of what is, but rather, what could be. I hope to continue to be a part of the program planning for the center in Niger and put to practice all that I have learned from my past travels and experiences. I am passionate about learning from cultures and sharing my experiences as artist with the people of that place in order for there to be mutual growth.
After graduation I spent a lot of time just making. Making whatever was in my head and heart because it was the first time my art making was not homework. My dream was to continue and grow Art Across Borders in a multi’faceted project. I hoped to have a mobile art studio that traveled to people’s homes and events and did parties/projects for adults and children, set up shop at local festivals and street fairs where I not only sold my own art but also the products and art of organizations that are serving their communities in other parts of the country or the world, and to be a little to no cost creative outlet for lower income communities.
One night someone had sent a listing for a bus for sale to my stepdad. I begged and begged them to consider getting the bus so we could make it into a mobile art studio but unfortunately timing was not right again. However, that set the fire ablaze in me to do it myself. I searched for months for the “right” VW bus, fully aware that with the budget I had I was going to need to put some work into. The morning of the day that I was going to do see and very likely buy a bus outside of Philly, I was shown a listing for a bus in South Carolina that was my favorite color, gutted on the inside besides the front seats (perfect for an art bus customization), and was being sold by a girl who clearly was some kind of soul sister of mine since we had very similar interests and jobs. After a lot of prayer, several extremely generous donations from friends and family, I bought “Caroline” and had her shipped to New Jersey where she became “Flo” or “Florence the Machine.” Ever since she’s been a jersey girl she has been in and out of the shop several times but now is able to drive reliably and brings joy to everyone who meets her. We are so excited to continue our adventure and to get more people creating and crossing the borders within themselves.