Art for Change

"One of our core values is empathy — the ability to understand and share the feelings of another," Head of School John Packard wrote to the Brooks community on June 2, in the wake of George Floyd's murder at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, as thousands of Black Lives Matter protests kicked off nationwide. "The challenge ahead is less about whether we can understand and share the feelings of members of our community, and much more about what we will do with that understanding."

Rising fifth-former Hongru Chen '22, for one, didn't waste any time taking action. Seeing the Black Lives Matter movement heating up, he said, "I felt compelled to do something." And it was no little something.

Inspired by a friend's art project, he launched the "Art for Change" fundraising initiative in June — LGBTQ Pride Month — and has facilitated the donation of about $500 so far to non-profits that benefit Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ+ organizations.

The concept is simple, yet powerful. For every person who provides Chen with proof that they've made a contribution to an organization supporting Black communities or Black Lives Matter or LGBTQ+ groups, he will create a portrait based on a photo they provide. The size of the donation dictates the size, and type, of his artwork: $10 - $20 for a postcard-sized sketch, $21 - $30 for a medium-sized drawing, $31 - $50 for a large, and $50 or more for a 12x16" acrylic painting.

"Art for Change" funds have gone to The Bail Project, Black Lives Matter Global Network, Minnesota Freedom Fund, NAACP, National Bail Out and Sylvia Rivera Law Project.

"Art has been one of my biggest passions for a very long time, and I am constantly looking for ways to apply my skills and passion into helping my community," he wrote in an email from Houston, where he's continuing to work on new portraits for participants.

"I believe that, as a person of color in a predominantly white institution, it is important to be proactive and vocal about my support to the Black community, despite the differences in our experience with racism," the artist (below) explained.

Chen received support too, from classmates and Brooks teachers as soon as he announced his project. "After I posted the information on social media . . . 10 people sent me commissions that have kept me busy this summer!" he shared.

Most of the larger pieces have been completed and he will finish the rest of the artwork soon. Not that it's felt like work. "The process is very enjoyable and has also allowed me to improve on my skillset," he wrote. "It's also allowed me to educate myself more on the topic of race and how to foster conversations on race and racism."

"To know that I have raised [money for] organizations that support Black communities around the country . . . feels very fulfilling."

Interested in participating?

Chen is still welcoming commissions:

  • Email proof of a donation, along with a photo or headshot that he can use as inspiration for a portrait.
  • Request the style you'd like.
  • Look out for an email with an image of the finished portrait.
  • The student will mail or deliver the actual portrait in person on campus this fall.

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