Art for Refugees in Transition Art for Refugees in Transition
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“A child is supposed to be growing up protected from the world. They should be playing and learning. If your life is interrupted so fundamentally, you are denied the basics needed to grow up healthy.”—Francis M. Deng, United Nations representative on internally displaced people.


Art for Refugees in Transition (A.R.T.) helps rebuild individual and community identity for refugees worldwide. Drawing upon the indigenous art forms of each community, A.R.T.’s programs are designed to enable the elders of a culture to educate and incorporate the younger generation in their cultural traditions. By developing self-sustaining curricula and training programs, A.R.T. engages children and adults in visual, performing and creative arts drawn from their own cultures. These activities provide local and international relief institutions with tools to help refugee communities cope with the trauma, terror and dislocation of war and natural disaster.


ART was conceived in 1999, as a response to the ongoing turmoil in the Balkans. Refugees, fleeing the raging warfare were flooding into safe towns. A.R.T.'s founder, Sara Green, earned her MBA at Columbia University with the idea of applying business model skills to the world's refugee populations. She saw fear and hopelessness in the faces of children who had had their childhoods stolen away. But every child loves to sing and dance, to play and feel free. Sara's hope was that, by finding their childhood through their unique ethnic expression, these children could become more than lost refugees. In 2001, she went to Kosovo to work with these children. After several years of research and development, A.R.T.'s initial program was launched in two Burmese refugee camps in Thailand in 2003.

In partnership with the International Rescue Committee, (IRC) A.R.T. successfully introduced and implemented its pilot program, working with elders and children of the Burmese Karen, Karenni and Shan tribes. A.R.T.'s programs were enthusiastically embraced — by both young and old. For these Burmese refugees, their cultural expression creates purpose where there is little or no hope of getting out of the camps and returning home.

A.R.T. is currently running its programs in barrio Tintalito, localidad Kennedy, Bogotá, and Carmen de Viboral, Antioquia, Colombia.  Currently, Colombia is undergoing the largest humanitarian catastrophe in the Western Hemisphere.  Armed conflict has created displacement throughout Colombia where over three million of its thirty six million inhabitants have become refugees.


“Over seven million refugees have lived in camps for 10 years or more.”—43rd World Refugee Survey, U.S. Committee for Refugees.
Long after international relief organizations have provided food, clothing, shelter, medical care and sanitation, hapless refugees so often languish in camps that are little more than human warehouses. Once basic relief is provided, the refugees need help to create and maintain their sense of community, and to prepare them to get on with their lives in a strange country. Here is where A.R.T. steps in, developing a specific curriculum for each group, based on the refugees’ own indigenous arts, helping them to re-establish intergenerational relationships rooted in their own culture, and thus giving them the impetus and tools to rebuild their communities. A.R.T.’s programs are designed to affect the lives of children and adults living in refugee communities in a number of ways:

  • Cultural preservation – Away from their home towns and villages, refugees are in danger of losing their indigenous customs and culture, and with that their group identity; leaving their children with an even more impoverished future.
  • Personal development – Children will benefit both from keeping their culture alive and from the self-expression and healing that will emerge from their involvement with their community’s arts. Being part of a community brings with it the prestige of being entrusted with its heritage and directly affects the self-esteem of the children who participate. It helps empower them, training the children to take on future leadership roles. Adults, especially the elders, in turn find new purpose in passing on their traditions to the children. Our experience so far has shown overwhelming enthusiasm from all who are asked to participate.
  • Community building – The refugees themselves decide which art forms will be taught and passed on to the youngsters. A.R.T. acts merely as a facilitator, with the interests of the children as its primary focus. Adult artists in each community are trained by A.R.T. staff to implement the program, thus helping to establish respect by the younger generations for the tribal elders, to rebuild intergenerational relationships, and to encourage the refugees to recapture the roots of their community.

Future Plans

A.R.T. now operates on three different continents and has offices in New York and Bogotá. Due the previous success of programs, A.R.T. will continue to expand its presence in Colombia with new programs in Bogotá and other cities including Medellin and Cali. Building on its expansion in the United States, A.R.T. will begin a program in Utica, located in its home state of New York.

We anticipate that the projects will evolve into self-sustaining cultural programs in this community, and will serve as a model for future projects both in the region and elsewhere in the world. With over 30 million refugees and internally displaced people, most of whom can never go home; there is a great need to help them rebuild their communities. A.R.T. does not provide a “cookie cutter” solution, but does build on its basic format; adapting the curriculum to the specific needs of the particular culture in the refugee community. A.R.T. will help meet these needs by continuing to develop programs to guide refugee communities in their efforts, and to build a staff of professionals with experience in management, refugee and aid relief, and art education.

Management Team

Sara M. Green, Founder, Executive Director, received her MBA in Finance and Economics from Columbia Graduate School of Business. In 2001, she traveled to Kosovo under the auspices of the International Rescue Committee to examine programs and policies for children in armed conflict. In 2003, she implemented A.R.T.’s Pilot Program in Mae Hong Son Province, Thailand and returned in 2004 to help expand the Program. Ms. Green has been traveling to Colombia since 2004, overseeing the implementation and expansion of A.R.T.’s programs in Bogotá and Medellín. She holds a BFA in Dance and a BA in History from Ohio State University. Ms. Green has seven years of experience in managing fundraising, development and strategic planning for non-profits, including The New York City Ballet and Dance Theatre Workshop. Ms. Green danced professionally for 10 years in both Europe and the U.S. Ms. Green currently manages the implementation of all US programs. In 2011, Ms. Green was awarded the Ariane de Rothschild Fellowship. Her work with A.R.T. has been featured in several books, including “More Than 85 Broads,” by Janet Hanson and “The Art of Doing Good,” by Charles Bronfman and Jeffrey Solomon. Ms. Green is also holds an adjunct teaching position at New York University’s School for Global Affairs.

Katharine Stevens, Director, Curriculum Development, is currently completing her PhD. in Education Policy at Columbia’s Teachers College. Prior to returning to graduate school she founded and served as Executive Director of Far Bound, a New York City not-for-profit organization that recruits and trains high-quality new teachers for public schools in low-income communities. Her previous experience includes seven years as Director of the Venture Consortium, an association of colleges and universities based at Brown University that provides career exploration and public service programs to students and alumni. Ms. Stevens received her B.A. in American History from the University of Chicago, an MBA in Management at Columbia Graduate School of Business, and a Masters and Ph.D. in Education Policy from Teachers College.

Sergio Duran, Country Director, Colombia, received his BS in Agricultural Engineering from Louisiana State University and a Masters in Public Administration from Princeton University. Mr. Duran began his career working as the director of several public sector institutions in Colombia. He served as the Director for Rural Planning for the Office of the President and as the Director of the Environmental Protection Institute. Mr. Duran was also the President of FINAGRO, an agricultural bank. Currently, Mr. Duran is an international consultant in marketing and logistics for agricultural products for companies in Argentina, the United States and Colombia. Mr. Duran also serves as the President of the Board of Directors of A.R.T. in Colombia.

Advisory Boards:

United States

ART’s Advisory Board includes international development professionals, art therapists, financial experts and a legal advisor.
Susan Barnett, Media Strategist
Peter S. Green, Journalist
Victoria Harmon, Director, Credit Suisse First Boston
Jennifer P. Holt, Peace Dividend Trust
Margaret Pomeroy Hunt, Vice President of Development, New York Public Radio
Carolyn Kissane, Professor, New York University
Jane Lowicki-Zucca, Consultant, Child and Youth Protection and Development in Conflict and Post-conflict
Kourosh Mahboubian, Founder & CEO, Wild Blue
Natalie Napierala, Attorney-at-Law
William Petroni, Managing Director, Cristin Tierney Gallery
Robert S. Green, Attorney-at-Law
Marjorie Spitz, Marketing and Development Consultant
Naomi Vladeck, Development Consultant


Sergio Duran, Business Consultant and Wine Producer
Santiago Madriñán, Private Business Developer and Entrepreneur
Elena Uprimny, Associate Professor, Anthropology Department, Universidad de los Andes

Special Thanks to:

Cecilia Mejia;
Janet Hanson and 85 Broads for their continued personal and financial support;
The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children;
Eugene M. Lang Center for Entrepreneurship, Columbia University Graduate School of Business: Prof. Murray Low and Prof. Clifford A. Schorer;
The Caring for Colombia Foundation;
Graphic Systems Group;
International Rescue Committee: Marie de la Soudiere, Director of Programs for Youth in Armed Conflict;
Frances and Gerard Guillemot;
Ambassador Jeanne Kennedy Smith;
Prof. William Dugan, Graduate School of Business, Columbia University;
David Gordon;
Melissa Dusenberry;
Natalia Sanchez and Alejandro Ramirez;
In warm memory of a very special person: Mary Diaz, Executive Director, The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children, (1961 - 2004)

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