Art With A Mission

Art can speak.
Art can listen.
Art can see.
Art can feel.
Art can change.

There are countless non-profit art organizations in the world. While most of them utilize the power art holds for positive and productive social purposes, VAST Bhutan stands apart from the rest. I have had the privilege of witnessing the workings of VAST first hand over the last six weeks. It is always an incredible thing to participate in social services, but VAST’s volunteers have reminded me how true activism through art can benefit a world.

VAST has initiated several special projects alongside the regular classes that are taught by its volunteers- projects that are born out of the core of true humanitarianism. Last year, volunteers came together to develop a rice bank to help the needy. They also built a home for one family in Punakha. While both of these projects were incredible, VAST’s ‘Make a Wish’ project deserves particular recognition. Young volunteers offered their services to help the wish of 28 elderly villagers come true. VAST aimed to help bridge the gap that is forming in Bhutan between the young and the old. The young volunteers accompanied these elders on a pilgrimage to the holy land of Bumthang. Most of the elders had never left their village and as Asha Kama has said, they are at a point in their life where they are taking refuge in their religion. The project was planned and carried out beautifully.

This December, VAST will host its ‘Annual Art Festival-Young Zoom on Garbage’. The project focuses on the garbage and waste problem in Bhutan. The exhibition will include photos, videos and installations as well as interactive booths that will help teach the public about recycling and waste management. I will extend my experience to them so that we can create a giant installation-based exhibition at the Clock Tower. Essentially, the entire Clock Tower will be a piece of art work.

It is projects like these that make VAST a unique non-profit organization. In El Paso, I have worked with non-profit organizations that utilize art to educate young people and improve the quality of life for those people who experience hardships. However, VAST is an organization that remains true to humanitarian causes in the most effective of ways. The volunteers come together and identify the problems Bhutan is facing-the problems that will surely cause serious issues in the Kingdom if they are not remedied-and design projects that trigger a positive reaction at the core of those issues. VAST is truly a little giant-often times short on funds, small in numbers, relatively “unofficial,” but rich in social conscience and an ability to put that social conscious to use with a language that speaks universally.

In the coming months, VAST will travel to Phuentsoling where they will initiate a new branch. VAST will also hold its first public sculpture exhibition. When I arrived I was asked if I worked with wood or metal and the only reply I could muster was that I worked with everything. The youth in Bhutan have access to countless unique materials. The coming sculpture exhibition will utilize the creative fuel that has gathered in Bhutan for centuries-nature, textiles, rich culture, tradition, issues of development and found-objects that are native to the Kingdom. It will be a grand display of the youth’s collective ideas. VAST will also hold its annual winter camp, where the youth will learn about environmental art work. They will learn about conservation and how art can be used in the environment to bring to light the beauty and fragility that lives in nature.

VAST is a beacon of hope in a quickly changing world. Its members have a powerful understanding of the fragile workings of progress in Bhutan and what can be done to move Bhutan gracefully and beautifully through this time in its history using art as their method. Because VAST has an ability to touch the many layers of Bhutan’s society and culture, they are giving Bhutan and providing the rest of the world with an example of the tremendous and beautiful tools with which our future generations can move forward positively. VAST understands the power that is fostered when a young generation is given the power to use visual art as a means to affect change and express themselves.

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This article written by Xochitl Rodriguez appeared in Business Bhutan.

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