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Annual Refugee art auction to be held at Bar Divani

Tonight's "Art Without Borders," a silent art auction at Bar Divani, helps raise money for Grand Rapids refugees. Bids will range from $25-150.
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Attend Art Without Borders

Thursday Nov. 1

6:30-9:00 p.m.

Bar Divani

15 Ionia Avenue

Admission: $10 or $5 with a student ID

That Wah, a Burmese refugee resettled by BRS, hand weaves scarves, bags and scarves.

That Wah, a Burmese refugee resettled by BRS, hand weaves scarves, bags and scarves. /courtesy of Bethany Refugee Services

“[Art Without Borders] is a fundraiser and awareness event. We want people to know that there are refugees in their community and to know why [refugees] are here,” says Kate Law, Marketing and Communication Specialist at Bethany Refugee Services (BRS). 

The silent art auction is a creative way to raise money for Grand Rapids’ refugees and is part of BRS’ effort to welcome refugees into their new community. “It’s a way for people to learn about the issues. [The art auction] allows very different types of community members to come and serve refugees in a different way,” says Law.

This year's silent art auction will feature artwork donated from local artists. Many of the artists chose not to receive any of the proceeds made from their work in an effort to make this event as beneficial for the refugees as possible.

Refugee artists That Wah and Jay Lay of Burma will be selling hand woven scarves and bags, many of which are sold throughout the year through Rhododendron Crafts and local vendors such as Global Infusion. Many local artists are making an appearance as well. Pamela Alderman is auctioning off her 2012 Artprize top 100 piece, “Courage Ablaze,” a watercolor featuring an African refugee and Alderman’s daughter. Pieces like these will be in high demand, but high prices will not be an issue.

“You don’t need a lot of money to attend this event. All bids are within $25-$150,” says Law.

About 600 refugees resettle in Grand Rapids every year. About half of these are resettled with the help of BRS. The majority of these refugees are from Burma (also known as Myanmar), Butan, Iraq and various African countries. All refugees are forced to resettle because of brutalities within their own countries, such as ethnic cleansing and violent religious oppression.

For some, stepping off the plane will be their first time living outside the confines of a refugee camp in decades. For those born within the camps, it will be their first time ever outside those walls. Almost none speak English. Almost none have heard of Grand Rapids.

Putting language barriers aside, there is still a huge learning curve for refugees in Grand Rapids. Many refugees have never seen a flush toilet (let alone know how to use one), or know how to use mail and how to pay bills. For refugee children, they must learn what it looks like to be an American student, i.e. raising your hand to be called on and sitting at a desk with paper and pencil. “They cannot learn in a school until someone teaches them how to learn in the first place,” says Law.

Refugees are greeted at the airport by BRS employees and brought to a furnished apartment paid for by BRS. Employment programs and English language learning programs are available to the refugees at no cost for up to six months (the employment program lasts five years). From there, they are connected with cash assistance and food stamp programs to assist refugees in day-to-day life. BRS also connects refugees with families, churches or individuals that support refugees on a more personal level.

Art Without Borders will be hosted at Bar Divani from 6:30-9:00 p.m. this Thursday, November 1. A cash bar is available and dinner is provided at the end of the evening. Admission is $10, or $5 with a student ID. Tickets can be bought at the door or online through Bethany Refugee Services.

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