Cultural Arts Division

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2016 Transplanting Traditions

karen youth art group membersSince 2013, artists from the Franklin Street Art Collaborative (FRANK Gallery) have been working with Karen (Burmese) refugee youth, primarily from the Rogers’ Road neighborhood, to facilitate their integration into the Chapel Hill and Carrboro communities.  Artists Nerys Levy, Hollie Taylor and Mary Stone Lamb in particular have worked one-on-one with Karen youth to expand their artistic, linguistic and social skills.  

One project, sponsored in part by the Town of Chapel Hill's Community Art Project, is a 40-page bilingual (Karen-English), illustrated book about farming - a prominent vocation among Karen.  The book, titled Transplanting Traditions, helps youth and their families read and write their own language while refining their English skills.   Karen youth were intimately involved in providing photography, drawings and helping with many Karen idioms not easily translatable to English.   The book also introduces central North Carolinians to Karen customs and the native fruits and vegetables they are currently growing on the project farm nearby.

In 2016 numerous public events were scheduled around the publication and launch of Transplanting Traditions. In early June the book was debuted at a reception at FRANK Gallery.  The book was introduced to the public with a presentation by the Karen youth and their mentors about the journey from conception to completion.  Excerpts from the book were read in both the youths’ native language and in English, and songs about farming were performed in a similar fashion.  A family program to introduce the book also occurred at Kidzu Children’s Museum in University Place mall.  At this free family event Karen Youth again read from the book in both languages as well as sang and played Karen music.  Photography mentor Dennis Szerszen presented a slideshow of images from the book.  Children and their parents created collages relating to traditional Karen designs with FRANK artist Sandy Milroy.  Karen costumes were also displayed for added inspiration.  The program was a collaboration of the Karen Youth Group, Orange Literacy Council, Chapel Hill Library, Carolina Asia Center and UNC's Program in the Humanities.


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