"In general, from my experience working with refugee artisans as a folklorist, I have seen that when they are able to perpetuate and sustain their traditional art forms, over time they are able to make a better connection and adjustment to American life. A community that welcomes and engages with refugee artisans and supports their art also helps with their transition. All of this builds their confidence." (Interview with Ellen McHale, Executive Director of the New York Folklore Society)
It is true that the newcomer arts groups featured on this website need ongoing support, but they also offer plenty in return to the communities in which they exist. The groups featured on this website work very hard and are not looking for handouts. Many of the artisans, as well as the group facilitators, are volunteers and do this work in their free time. It is not just the refugees and immigrants who exclusively benefit from the existence of arts and craft groups. The entire community in which they exist benefits in a variety of ways. These groups of artisans create more diversified, creative communities in which we should all want to live. Newcomer arts groups provide opportunities for cross-cultural exchange and promote awareness and appreciation of one another’s heritage and experiences, which can lead to solutions that overcome perceived sociocultural barriers and seemingly insurmountable challenges.
"Forms of cultural expression are primary sources of collective and individual creativity. They provide people with rare opportunities for looking at the world in a new way. They teach and inspire people of all ages, particularly the young, to express and innovate... By providing the opportunity to assess new possibilities and ponder how things might be, this exercise of imaginative reflection can be the first step in the development process, an arena where problems and potential solutions can be identified, defined, and redefined" (Kleymeyer p. 25-6).
As a society, we need more dialogue about what types of communities we want to live in as well as what each of us can offer and contribute to our own community. Refugee and immigrant artisans should be provided with an opportunity to contribute to the creative communities in which they now live and thrive. After all, we all need creative expression in our lives in order to make sense of the world around us as well as to express who we are and who we collectively want to become.
"Through their work, artists inspire, celebrate, mourn, commemorate, and incite us to question the human condition. They make visible our rich diversity, help interpret our past, and imagine and construct the future. They are fundamental to our nation's cultural heritage and vibrancy, and important to our social fabric and economic vitality" (Jackson p. 88).
Based on my extensive research and interviews with newcomer arts groups nationwide, as well as a number of folklorists, here is a list of benefits experienced by refugee and immigrant artisans as well as the broader communities in which these groups operate. For specific examples, see the various narratives about newcomer arts collectives, sustainable models, and support models in the menus above.