Bruce High Quality Foundation Is Facilitating Free Art Education in Rural Zambia
In 2009, anonymous art collective Bruce High Quality Foundation (BHQF) started a free art school in downtown Manhattan, dubbed the Bruce High Quality Foundation University (BHQFU). The school offers free-of-charge art courses and funds residencies for fellow artists. So when offered the chance to work with a tuition-free, arts-based grade school in Zambia, BHQFU saw an opportunity to continue its mission—and build a meaningful, long-term relationship between its New York artist community and Zambian schoolchildren.
The first phase of the project began late last month with a Kickstarter campaign titled “How to Move a Mountain” to fund a printmaking program at the Chipakata Children’s Academy in Zambia. A school of over 200 children, preschool through 7th grade, the academy is the first initiative in rural Zambia of the 14+ Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that builds schools for communities in rural Africa.
Co-founder and CEO of 14+ Joseph Mizzi (who is also on the board of BHQFU) had initially approached BHQF to create a mural within the school, but the artists and the BHQFU team sought to work with the school in a more significant and collaborative way.
“We wanted to brainstorm and find a creative way to do something a little more impactful and involve the students outside of just going there once and painting something pretty,” says Sean J Patrick Carney, outreach manager of BHQFU. If they meet their Kickstarter goal, the project they developed over the past six months will see the BHQFU launch a fully equipped, high-quality printmaking program at Chipakata, which will allow students and teachers there to create drypoint engravings on copper plates for years to come.
The relatively low cost of printmaking was a draw for BHQFU, says Carney. “Once you’re set up, you can make reproducible works of art in mass; it’s really convenient and relatively inexpensive to maintain a studio practice.” The medium also offers myriad opportunities for experimentation, from the line drawing that goes into the engraving to the way the plates are inked, which is compelling for seasoned artists and schoolchildren alike.
BHQFU has also recruited New York artists from their community—including prominent artists like Rashid Johnson, Betty Tompkins, and Lucien Smith—to become involved in the project. “We wanted to do something that would evolve over several years and also involve a lot of other artists who want to contribute to the project,” says Carney, “to do something different than asking artists for a painting for a benefit auction.” BHQFU has held several gatherings at studios across the city, where they bring the press and invite artists to come and create new work.
“We want to show the kids that it’s pretty simple to do a drypoint engraving, just scratch on a plate, put some ink on it, run it through a press and all of a sudden you’ve got a print,” Carney continues. “It’s great that artists here are doing the same process that the kids will do there.”
Some 50 New York artists so far have used the same press that will be sent to Zambia to make their own prints, which will be shown with the works of Chipakata students in a pair of exhibitions in 2018 in Zambia and New York. Sales from those exhibitions will continue to fund the collaboration between the two schools.
“We’ve got this really fun narrative where the press is this character who’s basically met all these artists in New York, and worked with them, and then goes and works with all the students and teachers at Chipakata,” says Carney. All of the copper plates with the engravings from artists and students will also be installed as a mural at the school.
Carney adds that the project aims to empower the Chipakata students to express themselves, and to create art that they want to hold on to. “We want them to understand that this is the way that a lot of artists exist, that we make work and we share it with our friends and that’s part of the motivation to create stuff—that you get to share it with this community and talk about it and get feedback.”
Should all go well, Carney notes that the two schools could release print portfolios each year to continue to fund the program, and down the line there could be opportunity for a teacher exchange program that would bring teachers from BHQFU to Zambia, and Chipakata teachers or Zambian artists to teach at BHQFU. “That would be a wonderful and really mutually beneficial initiative for our students at BHQFU and artists in New York and for the students in Zambia and the artists who are living and working there.”