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National program seeks out Grand Rapids artist

The national program, Hope Equals, has requested that local artist Georgia Taylor join them in the Middle East this summer.
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Grand Rapids-based artist, Georgia Taylor, has received the invitation of a lifetime. The organization Hope Equals, which conducts workshops in Israel and Palestine, has asked her to participate in a two-week-long program (from July 21-August 5) that will consist of, as Taylor put it, "in-depth workshops and lectures with Israeli and Palestinian artists together." The program will take Taylor both to Israel and Palestine to collaborate with local artists, as well as fourteen other North American artists (including fellow Grand Rapids artist, Eric Nykamp), who have also been invited to participate in the program. Hope Equals sought out Taylor specifically, as a potential participant.

"It's quite incredible,” Taylor said with a smile. “Especially for an artist who still considers themselves to be emerging and not yet established. There was still a formal application process, but they invited me!"

Taylor said that one of the things she's anticipating the most about the trip is the opportunity to work with other artists.

"Art can be very solitary, so to meet other artists that do something completely different is what really drew me into it." She says community has always been important to her as an artist, and that the opportunity to expand her contacts into several other regions, both globally and within North America is something she highly anticipates. But in addition to meeting other artists, the other thing that most excites her about the program is the travel experience.

"This will be my first trip abroad," she said. "I've been itching to travel, but I told myself that if I'm going to spend a large amount of money to go somewhere I didn't just want to go on a vacation. I just wanted to do something with a greater purpose."

Taylor said her specific knowledge of the conflict between Israel and Palestine is minimal and that she'd like to keep it that way, saying, "I want to be open and listen and learn and contribute where I can." She thinks it will be "a lot of watching and listening and taking it all in."

Taylor has been issued a small packet of preliminary readings for the program on the history of the region that she will read, but overall she's reserving judgement on the situation so she can more effectively gain the most she can from the program.

Until 1948 (at the completion of the Arab-Israeli War) the areas known as Israel, Gaza, and The West Bank were part of Palestine and were home largely to Palestinian Arabs. The population of what is now called Israel claimed God had promised the territory to them as their rightful home. The eventual formation of the state of Israel left those who identified as Palestinian displaced along the Gaza Strip (which has since been returned to Palestinian control) and the West Bank (the region separating Israel and Palestine). Within the Palestinian state two core groups (The Hamas and the Fatah) engaged in a power struggle for years until two 2006 Palestinian Parliamentary elections installed the Hamas as the dominant party. Since then the two regions have struggled (unsuccessfully) toward peace.

Hope Equals Art will provide Georgia Taylor with an opportunity to impartially explore both sides of the conflict, in an effort not only to expand her understanding of the world and the varieties of human experience, but also to expand the scope of her creative endeavors. The program fees add up to $3500, without including airfare, and this is where Georgia needs the community's help. She has set up a campaign to help raise the funds she needs to participate in this program.

"I have to raise money to go. I've been doing some mailings, but I really want as many people to be involved with this as possible," she said. "I think this is one way to let people in on something and let them support artists. It's a way for people to participate."

Georgia Taylor has been based out of West Michigan for her entire life, growing up in Kalamazoo and eventually relocating to Grand Rapids to attend Kendall College of Art and Design. After deciding to stay in Grand Rapids she started Salon 477 as a way of "supporting artists who are trying to get established in their community." She also teaches free art classes at the West Michigan Center for Arts and Technology (MCAT), which has become increasingly important to her as art classes continue to disappear from the public school spectrum.

Georgia said one of the questions she was asked in regard to the program was how she plans to use it afterward.

"In terms of my students, I would use it to share my experience with them- to help them see beyond what's in front of their faces. I think I could help them know that there's (sic) more experiences and more people and how that can help them think beyond maybe what their opportunities are, and what they've been told their opportunities are. You can't travel to another country without being affected. I'm excited to see what it's gonna' do when I get back."

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