PUBLISHED: 3:39 PM on Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Zimbabwe Art Project showing at KTOO
When sociologist Dick Adams went to Zimbabwe in the early 90s as a professor from Lewis and Clark College, he did not plan on become an art broker for the people of the region.

After a few visits to the rural community of Weya in the African country, Adams was approached by locals to help them find a way to earn more income.

"I got to know the community and as we were about to leave this rural area in Zimbabwe, a woman came to me and asked if I could find a market for their art in the United States," Adams said. "It was out of the blue, no preparation, no idea this was going to happen or they were going to ask me this. It was so far out of the realm of my mental map of who I was, but I said 'yes' to them knowing I couldn't say 'no,' having no idea what that would mean."

Adams brought a few pieces of art back to the United States and after doing some research, was told there was a market for the art. In 1999 the Zimbabwe Art Project was created as a nonprofit organization to sell the art. Adams resigned from teaching at the college in 2000 to work on the project full time. He has a colleague in Zimbabwe who works with the artists, while Adams travels with the art to venues in the United States and spends six weeks a year in Zimbabwe.

"It all starts when I open up a box of art that comes from Zimbabwe. There are appliques, fabric paintings and paintings on boards," Adams said.

Each piece of art is accompanied with a photo and biographical information on the artist. Adams also types the story of the artwork, which comes handwritten and attached to the art.

Photo by Amanda Gragert
  Dick Adams of the Zimbabwe Art Project at KTOO with a piece of art.
"People can see the art, meet the artist through the photograph and bio information and read about the story of the art the artist has written about that piece. So those are all things that I do, and I go where I get asked to go," Adams said.

He came to Juneau to show art at KTOO in 2005 and was asked to return this year. The Zimbabwe Art Project is now showing at KTOO and Heritage Coffee through the month of May.

"I have never gone to a place where there was a sour reception to the art. There's always an enthusiastic one. So when I come to Juneau I never know how many pieces are going to sell but I know some pieces will sell. I know that people will be happy. They're happy with the art, they're happy with the project. I feel like I'm in the middle of goodness. The people in Zimbabwe are happy that it's selling because they need money," Adams said. "Juneau is fun because it's very different that any other community I go to. It's much more physically isolated and there's a wonderful artistic sensibility here."

Adams said because he personally spends time with the artists, he can tell stories about them and communicate what their needs are.

"We know the issues that make them cry, the issues of their lives and the extent to which those issues require a response. We do provide health care for all of the artists, meaning transporting them 100 miles and seeing a doctor, paying for doctor and prescriptions," Adams said.

He said artists come to the group with emergency situations. If ZAP can do something, the artists are asked to create art for a situation and then art is sold to provide resources to solve problem.

"We're always in touch with the community in ways to meet needs and in ways that are respectful, which maintains their dignity and self respect. The artists are the authors of the solution and on the basis of their creative work we begin to start the process of solving their problems."

Adams said the overall enterprise is satisfying, and he doesn't regret his decision to retire from formal education.

"It (ZAP) sort of feeds my soul in a fundamental way. It's wonderful for me to be connected with a community of people who live in such different circumstance to mine. It's really quite a privilege to stay connected over many years. It's not something I would imagine would be part of my life. And it adds an amazing depth and richness to my existence," Adams said. "To have that connecting in ways that are respectful and dignifying, it's good work and satisfying to do. I don't lose my enthusiasm for it."

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