Create the space to be heard

February 20, 2014

Sarah Drake '99, Advertising Communication and Design - herARTS in Action

After going through a heart break and finding it difficult to sort through all that was happening in my life, it was my 7-year-old daughter who encouraged me with a simple – yet profound – task:

“Go paint, Mom. Go paint.”

She was right.

Painting gave me a way to channel my energy and my emotions. All of a sudden I had all this “stuff” that just needed to come out.

I found myself painting these mud-like huts with decorative painting on them . . . and trees. I found it odd because I hadn’t really seen these things before, yet I just kept painting them. I thought, “there must be a reason for this,” so I googled “painted mud huts,” and found the village of Tiebele, Burkina Faso, Africa.

I was totally being called to do something, although I didn’t know what. This village was what I’d been painting, and I needed to go there. I just felt it.

At the time, I really had no money and no plan. I didn't know anyone in the country or the language. Somehow, though, everything just fell into place. A friend offered me a consulting job that happened to pay the exact amount of money I needed for the plane ticket. I went to the village in 2011 to learn from the women there about the painting of huts. The experience was amazing, but it also made sick... literally sick. 

We were smearing the walls of the huts with mud, and the mud had feces in it. We washed our hands with dirty water. We ate with dirty hands. Of course I got sick. And, I got an extra week in Burkina Faso that opened my eyes to water issues. 

Prior to getting sick, my focus in the village would have been simply to learn about art. Instead, I learned about a real issue. Now, I’m no expert in water. I’m no engineer, but the women wanted me to work with them to create change and I was capable of doing something to try and make the quality of life better through art.

Putting art out there makes you vulnerable. I felt that art was the tool I was supposed to use for this. I made the commitment to the women in the village to create awareness and raise money for them. That’s when I decided to start entering art shows and responding to art calls through my non-profit organization herARTS in Action.

Through my art, I create the space for people to be heard. My art educates on topics around human rights that they might not be aware of. It helps bring the voices forward. Because I committed to the women and had to step out of my comfort zone, I took risks I never would have before. As a result, I’ve been among the first group of Americans to display art in a Moscow museum, and one of my pieces, “In the Country’s Fabric,” is now in a permanent collection there. I’ve learned to reclaim materials and repurpose them to tell others’ stories as in my collection, “Open Doors.” And, I’ve challenged others to think about survival and materialism through my art workshop “5 Minutes to Flee.”

The bonus is when a piece of artwork sells the money is used so that we can create wells and toilets in Tiebele.

One thing I’ve learned in life is the need for patience. I thought I had to have all my ducks in a row, all the answers. I went to high school, and I went to college. To date, I’ve earned a degree in graphic arts at SCTCC, a bachelor’s degree in elective studies with a double minor in ethnic studies and geography from SCSU, and a master’s in social responsibility. I got married, then divorced and am now raising a beautiful daughter as a single mom. And there have been many turns and detours and wrong directions along the way.

It’s all journey. You may think you are starting in one place, and you end up somewhere completely different. 

Don’t be afraid to let life get in the way . . . and change your direction.

Kate Wallace
Posted in Alumni