“It’s our mission and our passion,” said Longino, who is the creator of the International Paint Pals Foundation Inc., a nonprofit to provide a cross-cultural creative forum to children ages 6 to 18. “Art is a lot of things, but to us, art is communication and healing.”
Longino, of Buckhead, started a children’s art contest to exhibit international paintings at the 1996 Olympic Games, which included art from Atlanta kids, as well as children’s’ artwork from several other countries.
The exhibit’s continuous theme is peace and friendship through art, and is not based on talent.
After much success, he took the venture to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, where 75 countries were represented through artwork. He also took a group of American kids to meet fellow Paint Pals from China.
Now, Longino is working on creating an exhibit for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.
“It’s an opportunity for kids around the world to express themselves through art in a major world venue,” he said. “It makes a difference in every child’s life. They know for at least a few minutes, they’re doing something constructive [and] peaceful, expressing themselves.”
However, this time, it is more of a challenge because of the worldwide economic struggles within the past few years.
“A lot of people I have worked with have moved on to other jobs. I’m trying to find people I worked with before, plus trying to identify new ones,” he said. “I need to get the word out to many as countries as possible, as quickly as possible, to invite organizations to work with kids, … and invite kids to paint pictures for the Olympics.”
Longino is looking for anyone who has connections to people, organizations and schools overseas who can help with getting children’s’ artwork into the exhibit.
He must receive the artwork by Sept. 1 and will be sending it all to Russia by Oct. 1. The exhibit will launch in November and stay open throughout the games. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.
Irina Kizilova started working with Paint Pals in 1996, and is now the deputy director of the Institute for Cultural Programs and the Committee for Culture of City Administration in St. Petersburg, Russia.
In an email, she wrote Paint Pals has largely impacted her life and has seen it help improve other young peoples’ lives.
“The recognition they got via participating in these events formed the generation of young people involved in the core of world’s greatest projects that change the attitudes towards art, children and peace,” she wrote. “I sincerely and strongly believe in the idea of uniting people by means of children’s art and kids’ ability to feel positive of the whole world, to greet and accept all and everyone around them. My hope is that Paint Pals will get more support home and from all over the world, and will be able to create and implement new projects in the future.”
Anderson, a Brookhaven resident and founder of the Art Reach Foundation, said the exhibit is the expression of the child’s voice “through the making of art” and “makes an impact for a young child in turmoil.”
She said she believes art has become an under-used communication tool, as well as a tool for healing and self-awareness.
“Often part of the [art] curriculum is pushed to the back or eliminated, because something has moved us as Westerners to believe it’s for the elite or not necessary,” she said.
Anderson said the foundation’s work has provided evidence that immersion in art brings lifelong healing benefits. It includes integration of various arts known, including drawing, painting, movement and music drama, creative writing and guided meditation.
The foundation has positively affected traumatized children and families as far away as the Middle East, Anderson said. Domestically, Art Reach has helped Katrina victims and the military with post-traumatic stress issues.
Longino accompanied her in Jordan, where she was conducting classes to teach teachers how to teach art to Iraqi refugee children.
“[Linden and I] continue our collaborations now, using art to bring people together in a way that art is the language in connecting friendship that hopefully leads to a peaceful coexistence,” she said. “It’s an opportunity to become aware of yourself, those around you and how we are alike as opposed to different.”
Two “incurable idealists about how the world has possibilities” is how Anderson describes her and Longino, she said.
“We think that if enough kids worldwide paint peaceful pictures for these exhibits, they wouldn’t dare grow up and shoot each other,” Longino said. “Nobody else has figured out world peace. Until somebody else does, it’s the answer.”