Bushnell-Sage Library

An 'intercultural dialogue' spurred by children's art

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SHEFFIELD — In the imaginative minds of children, houses can be made of cake, covered in flowers, surrounded by lollipops and shaped like hearts.

A traveling art show, "There is no winter in Ukraine," is stopping at the Bushnell-Sage Library in Sheffield, where it is on display through Aug. 28. Consisting of works created by Ukrainian children between the ages of 7-15, the show has visited libraries across New England over a three-year period.

"There is no winter in Ukraine" is part of the Fermata Arts Foundation's international exhibition, "Ideal House," which comprises hundreds of children's drawings from 12 different countries. Endorsed by UNESCO in 2010, the foundation's project "Let's Build a Roof Over the World" aims to promote understanding between post-Soviet states and Western nations through art.

"It's about just seeing how wonderful the drawings are, how similar the children are," said Tatyana Ishutkina, Fermata's executive director. "It starts to stimulate the thinking process — to be more open to dialogue and collaboration."

"Ideal House" began displaying around Connecticut, New York and Massachusetts in 2009. It made its way through Latvia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Nagorno-Karabakh before arriving in Ukraine in 2015. One of its stops was the City Children's Library in Kryvyi Rih (or Krivoy Rog), one of Ukraine's most populous cities.

"They did a great job of displaying and organizing activities associated with the exhibition opening," Ishutkina said. "The library director, Elena Filanchuk, collected 200 drawings from her local schools. We asked her to send us a portion so we could start displaying it here."

Those 40 drawings from 14 schools became the current exhibit, which was shipped to the United States under the sponsorship of Oleg Vladimirovich Kosyak, a lawyer and chairman of Kryvyi Rih's anti-corruption committee. The show began at Prosser Public Library in Bloomfield, Conn., in January of 2016, and has since reached 20 different libraries across New England.

Bushnell-Sage Library Children's Program Coordinator Caitlin Hotaling stumbled upon the show by chance while visiting the Licia & Mason Beekley Community Library in New Hartford, Conn. Fascinated by the idea of a traveling children's exhibit, Hotaling said she contacted Fermata immediately.

"There's just something that's so unique and innocent about children's art," she said. "They're not trying to create some big message like adults are. They're just making something that they love."

Fermata also provided a notebook that allows viewers to leave feedback for the artists. Hotaling said that viewers of all ages have interacted with the show.

"It's great for kids to be seeing what other kids are making in a different culture," she said. "Adults see it, too, and sometimes they're amazed by some of the brush strokes."

A Connecticut-based nonprofit, Fermata describes its mission as "the preservation of peace through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation." All of its work is done on a volunteer basis.

Ishutkina emphasized the importance of cultivating "intercultural dialogues" between the United States and post-Soviet states. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, many of its former members have  experienced ethnic conflicts or civil unrest, which have been exacerbated by Russia's isolationist foreign policy.

"It's very important, especially at this time, for the United States to be open and to have this dialogue with those countries," Ishutkina said. "Russia is closed, so we have to be the country who helps them, works with them and has this intercultural dialogue going."

According to Ishutkina, another of Fermata's goals is to form Skype bridges for children in different cultures to communicate with each other.

Art, which lies at the center of Fermata's activities, can be a vehicle to achieve understanding, Ishutkina said.

"It's interesting when you have on the same wall [drawings from] different countries, and you see how similar they are and how children see the world very similarly," she said. "There is not much difference. It's just, geographically, we are dispersed, and we are far away from those countries."

Hotaling expressed similar sentiments.

"We all want the same things, whether it's a nice house to live in — in this case, quite a funky house," she said. "And we all have things that we love in common, whether it's music, art or nice colors. We can see that we're all really the same."


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