Students hope dreams will come true

$10,000 grant to fund art camp for orphans in Dominican Republic

It may be because Tyler Beard works with children that he’s managed to maintain the belief – often shed by adulthood – that no goal is too lofty to be achieved.

“I really want people to just dream a little bit bigger,” said Beard, a Kansas University graduate who teaches at Lawrence Arts Center. “There’s so much opportunity around us.”

When KU officials called for proposals for $15,000 in grant funds that could be dispersed for student projects, the art student dreamed.

What about a project that benefits a community? What about helping kids? How about orphanages? How about the Dominican Republic?

Beard proposed assembling a group of diverse artists to start an art camp for an orphanage in the Dominican Republic. The plan found support at KU and was funded with a $10,000 grant in surplus tuition funds.

The seven-member group next month travels to a small town on the northwest coast of the island nation to run a weeklong art camp. They’ll introduce art in many forms to the orphans and to students from neighboring areas.

“We are all artists, and we think that everyone should be artists, too,” said Andrew Hadle, a recent KU graduate among the artists going. “We felt this would be a very good place to plant the seed of art with all these kids.”

Lawrence artist David Werdin-Kennicott is among a group of Kansas University students heading to the Dominican Republic in early July to teach art to orphans.

The group chose the Dominican Republic after exploring spots in eastern Europe, Mexico and elsewhere. They picked the Dominican Republic because it was cheaper to travel to than Europe, while having a culture and environment dramatically different from the Midwest, Beard said.

They’ll work at the Monte Cristi Orphanage, home to about 25 children. The plans were arranged with Tom Eklund, executive director of Orphanage Outreach, an Arizona nonprofit that assists the orphanage.

One in 10 children finish high school in the impoverished area with a struggling education system, Eklund said. Kids go to school for half a day, and there are no art or music programs, he said.

“A lot of kids don’t have books,” he said.

Volunteers give their time to the orphanage, often teaching math or English, but Eklund jumped at the chance to have artists work with the kids, and he hopes others will follow suit.

“It’s very exciting,” Eklund said. “We’re just really anxious to have them come down and join us.”

Beard, who focuses on ceramics, assembled a mixed group. Hadle is a sculptor. Johanna Buschmann is a textile artist. Kenneth Kupfer, an illustration major. Jessica Molina specializes in new media. Amanda Schwegler is a design student. And David Werdin-Kennicott, a.k.a., Smilin’ Dave, is a sculptor.

“We all have our own idea of how we make art,” Hadle said.

The group is developing a curriculum. They’ll work with more than 100 children ages 5 to 18.

They’ll bring with them an assortment of art supplies, both for the camp and extras to leave behind. They also plan to use local materials, so that the Dominican students can find the supplies that they need long after the camp ends.

They’ll give their service while gathering inspiration for their own work, the artists said.

“You find out how similar people are everywhere and the benefits of opening yourself up to that kind of giving,” Werdin-Kennicott said.

When the students return, they’ll each create several art pieces for a local show.

The group continues to seek donations to pay for the art supplies. The project, they say, wouldn’t be possible without the support of KU and others.

There is a reality to being a poor college student, Beard said.

“You all have the grand ideas and you want to go places and you want to see things and you want to impact the world,” he said. “But it just doesn’t work financially.”

Beard said he hopes the project inspires others and, perhaps, even sparks a new ongoing program for KU students.

“You’ve just got to dream big and just try it,” he said.