In this month's Industry Interview we chat to Anthony Asael, one of the founders of Art in All of Us (AiA) - a not-for-profit organisation trying to raise cultural awareness and encourage children's development through art. He's also a renowned international photographer and has visited each one of the 193 countries that make up the United Nations!
What was the inspiration behind Art in All of Us and how does it work?
I founded Art in All of Us seven years ago with the objective to promote tolerance and cultural exchanges around the world. We wanted to reach schools in each one of the 193 UN member countries of the world and give children in each country a chance to express themselves. Art was the best communication method as it is the universal language. We stimulate the creativity and curiosity of children through our interactive activities. Today, more than 155,000 children have participated in our programs around the world.
What has the partnership with UNICEF done for the program?
UNICEF was one of our first partners and have been supporting us logistically since 2005. UNICEF believed in our program and approach since the very start in spite of being kind of a “crazy idea” in the beginning. They gave us a chance and opened the doors to the Ministries of Education and their own partners. Today, we have worked together in over 100 countries, and they call us regularly to train their own staff or partners in our programs or to organize photo missions.
You've travelled to 193 countries - what first interested you in travelling abroad?
My mother is from Turkey, her mother was born in Cuba and my father is from Italian origin. I shall be the only “real” Belgian of the family, even though I left my home country and my home some 15 years ago, and never really went back. I don’t have a home anymore and am kind of happy with this nomadic situation.There is so much to explore, so much to learn from, so much to exchange, that I never really could stay at one place. I remember that when I was 5-6 years old on holidays in Italy, I already wanted to cross the Mediterranean on a pneumatic boat. I effectively took a tiny boat early morning and left before my parents woke up. Fortunately a couple of hours later an Italian fishing boat found me alone in the middle of the sea…
Do you have a favourite cultural exchange story?
It is very hard to pick one, there are really hundreds of them...
Let’s choose North Korea then, as it is less known. It took me two and a half years to receive the authorization from the government to do my work in a local public school. I was closely monitored but very surprised by the fact that I was not censored in any way. The children could also ask the questions that they wanted during our sessions and we had some fascinating creative discussions. One month after our activity, the government called me back and they organized for the first time a nationwide art contest wherein the winner’s artwork is published in our book.
After my introduction workshop in the class, I remember also the first question of a local child. She was about 8 years old and asked if in Belgium the children were communist like they are. I was stunned by the question and wanted to avoid to enter in political consideration. I thought of myself not knowing what communism was at her age. After a couple of thoughts, I understood that she neither knew. Communism for her was an inherent quality. Her question was more “are the children in Belgium happy as we are” or “do they play the same games as we do”…. A question that was much easier to answer.
You're also a travel and people photographer - what advice do you have for achieving great travel photos?
Follow my rules of the 4P’s: Passion, Practice, Perseverance, and Patience.
Where's next for AiA?
I believe that we will keep doing what we do best with passion and creativity…. We also have a new book coming out soon so keep posted on our website.
Everyday we have more schools wanting to participate in our programs. Everyday, we have more travelers wanting to give a hand. Last week an old student from Jordan wrote me telling me that my visit in 2006 was her best school day of her life. Today she finished school and is part of our broad volunteer team. We hope that those students will be able to “educate” their children, their parents, and friends in the same way. I am conscious that we cannot change the world, and I know that there is still a huge amount of work to do.
Last year, I met a German girl on a train in Thailand. She never heard about Belgium, my home country – and we are neighboring countries. However, every small step can help to make many lives better. As Gandhi said “be the change you want to see in the world”. AiA will continue to follow this philosophy.
Check out our other posts in the Industry Interview series: