Working on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”, we all learned that design goes beyond beautiful finishes and brand names. Design can provide accessibility to the disabled, imagination to the uninspired, and comfort to the weary.
So what happens to us designers that worked on that television show for years, once the show is over? Well, we keep trying to change the world through design. We kind of got addicted to that mission. This time, we took that passion all the way to Ghana, West Africa!
Photo credit: Rachel Johnson
In a venture of humanitarian design collaboration, we took what we learned on EMHE, and built a therapeutic art center for children in Ghana with three non-profit organizations: Touch A Life Foundation, Connors Song and Art Feeds. We call it “Design With Purpose.”
Why art? Why these kids?
Touch A Life has rescued almost 100 children from modern-day slavery in the fishing industry on Lake Volta, the world’s largest manmade body of water, which is located in Ghana, West Africa. Touch A Life built the only long-term rehabilitative care center for trafficked children in all of Ghana, and the organization strives to bring healing to these children through therapeutic art programs and creative outlets. And Art Feeds helps develop and provide TAL and Connor’s Song with therapeutic art programs that can be implemented at the facility.
Inspired by a little boy named Connor Deal, who loved art and Legos, The Connor Creative Art Center was designed to look like 3 building blocks stacked together.
Good design should have meaning, right? We think so.
We loved the symbolism behind building blocks, and what these kids have been through. Standing alone, a Lego is not that strong, but when you put them together they create something with strength and beauty. These kids are like Legos, they are better together.
Through art, these kids are learning how to …
“I am Humphrey. I am very happy.”
Imagine. Create. Trust.
Find freedom. Dream. Flourish. LIVE!
Every square inch of this art center breathes with some life and meaning. In one area, we built a cubby room, so the kids have an individual space to call their own. A space they can trust will be there tomorrow. They each got to personalize their cubby with Kassett boxes from Ikea and colored Sharpies.
The week while we were there, the kids got to work with us on various projects to complete the art center. They loved learning how to use the tape measure, how to sand and paint. By involving them in the projects, they were invested in the creation of the art center.
Great design should be personal. For the entry way, the team from Connors Song had an artist take drawings from the kids and transfer them to tiles (see below). What a beautiful “stamp” to show the kids this place is ALL for them.
The main art room featured custom art desks, game tables, a wall to install Lego blocks, and an art display wall to feature an “Artist of the Month”. One of the highlights of the trip was seeing Humphrey’s face when he saw his art on that wall… in that moment, Humphrey was empowered. On his self portrait, Humphrey wrote “Architect in Life”. His dream is to be an architect when he grows up. He can totally do it.
One of our favorite quotes is from Picasso himself, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how do we remain an artist when we grow up.”
Of all the stuff we put included in the design, perhaps the favorite part of the kids was the reading area. We built a custom bookcase and labeled it “The Tree of Knowledge”. Kids in Ghana really love to read and learn. “You can find an adventure in every book,” was one of Connor Deal’s coin phrases. So true!
Above the bookcase, we had fun with a rope installation on the ceiling. Adding texture to the ceiling in this reading space gave it dimension, but they can also use the rope to pin up art to dry and display.
Ghana is known for its colorful fabrics. We found some incredibly fun fabrics in Kumasi, Ghana’s second largest city, to sew custom pillows for the reading hammocks.
Several projects we pulled together using scrap material. After building 35 art desks, we had quite a lot of scrap plywood, so our very talented carpenters made this bookcase, to show the kids the value of reusing material.
After sewing the pillows, we had some local fabric scraps leftover, and this stuff was way too pretty to waste! So we made Ghanaian fabric bunting!
What’s funny is you go to places like this thinking you’re going to help change the world…only to realize you come back changed. The Ghanaian spirit of kindness was contagious, and the kids filled our hearts immeasurably.
As art classes begin, we can’t wait to see what these kids come up with in this new creative space!
Thank you a million times over to everyone that supported The Connor Creative Art Center. As they say, (and in true Extreme Makeover: Home Edition fashion) it took a village to pull this off!
Check out this little lady with BIG ideas at www.kimlewisdesigns.com
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Photo Source: Kim Lewis