“I intuitively knew that the intimate knowledge women pass down between female relatives, and between close friends, is a wisdom that comes from the heart and has the possibility to heal and transform lives. I quickly saw that most women who want to make a difference in the world cannot afford to travel outside their homes or afford to donate large sums of money. The idea of taking small actions from a place of great heart would become the foundation of my work. Anyone could make a Traveling Postcard, share their voice and see that their voice could be a catalyst for change.” –Caroline Lovell
Arts & Healing Network is truly delighted to present one of the 2012 AHN Awards to Caroline Lovell, artist and founder of Traveling Postcards, a healing arts project in which women create handmade postcards that are then delivered around the world to other women who are suffering from violence, isolation, or other challenges. We are very moved by how this project connects women around the world through expressive art making and generosity of spirit. Caroline’s pioneering vision impresses us, as does her capacity to collaborate to help this project grow. We applaud her immense talent and creative spirit.
To learn more about Caroline Lovell’s work with Traveling Postcards, please visit www.travelingpostcards.org. You could also read another interview with Caroline in the winter 2012 issue of AHN News by clicking here.
Below is an interview by Arts & Healing Network Director Mary Daniel Hobson with Caroline Lovell from June 2012:
Mary Daniel Hobson: Could you tell me a bit about how you got started in the arts, and how your creative practice led you to such a global, community-minded project like Traveling Postcards?
Caroline Lovell: I fell in love with photography at an early age but I never imagined I was an artist. I thought that an artist should know how to draw and paint and accurately represent the world exactly as it was and I had a very difficult time expressing myself this way. Instead, I preferred to depict how something made me feel. I would paint the essence of trees, wind and sky and it was always in a motion of blur and brush strokes. Art teachers would tell me I needed to accurately draw the tree, so eventually I picked up a camera in frustration because I wanted others to see what I felt. I loved photography for the freedom of expression it afforded, and for years studied traditional black & white processes to perfect my craft. Many years later I began a Masters program in Transformative Arts at JFK University when I saw an opportunity to merge my love of art, my degree in Psychology and my innate need to make a difference in the world.
Working in and with a community of women, advocating for women’s rights and the right to be free of violence and empowering women to be leaders has long been a personal goal and a driving force for me. It was a natural choice for me to begin holding workshops for women and girls, using creativity as a way for self expression and dreams to emerge. I found that we hold some of our most precious wisdom close to our hearts, and by engaging with creativity, it frees our fears about letting go and we are able to share our most precious knowledge. I intuitively knew that the intimate knowledge women pass down between female relatives, and between close friends, is a wisdom that comes from the heart and has the possibility to heal and transform lives. I quickly saw that most women who want to make a difference in the world cannot afford to travel outside their homes or afford to donate large sums of money. The idea of taking small actions from a place of great heart would become the foundation of my work. Anyone could make a Traveling Postcard, share their voice and see that their voice could be a catalyst for change.
Mary Daniel: How did you come up with the idea of using postcards as your medium for this project?
Caroline: I have always been fascinated by the stories that postcards hold…small snippets of a life coupled with a great picture! They always felt like a window into a life that was lived long ago that I suddenly had access to and could use my imagination to create a new story around. Four years ago, I was interested in using some of my photographs to make old fashioned postcards. At the same time, I was asked to go to Africa to record women’s stories and needed a way to raise $5000 to pay for the trip. I decided to offer portraits to the women in my community, and we turned them into postcards…sharing stories from one community of women to another. I planned on making similar portraits of the women I met in Malawi. I thought of the old fashioned sewing circles where women used to gather to make something beautiful for someone else and created an event to bring women together to make postcards.
Every postcard is a piece of art in my mind. Every card is unique. Never, over three years and 1000 postcards, have two postcards looked alike! I imagine a woman who receives a card might keep it in a place in her home, in a drawer or on a shelf that would always remind her that she was cared for, and that she was a part of a much larger global community. It would keep her from feeling isolated and alone. I feel that art is able to translate beyond language and communicate a much larger vision of personal connection. Making a Traveling Postcard can personally connect both the creator of the card and the recipient of the card to the global issues that affect all of us despite geographic, economic or cultural borders.
Mary Daniel: Could you share a recent story of how Traveling Postcards was a source of healing and transformation?
Caroline: I have brought Traveling Postcards to many communities, all of which wanted to share their voices in support and solidarity of women. I still think however, that Traveling Postcards has had the biggest effect within the domestic violence community. The sense of violation, loss of personal power and isolation within this community is profound. But so is resiliency. The women I have met are powerful, fearless and incredibly compassionate.
I have worked with women who were living in transitional housing in several different communities. I even traveled to New York to facilitate a workshop within the Afghan population living in Queens. We made cards for women living in Afghan shelters and for women living in other local shelters in California. I saw over and over again how resilient they were and how willing they were to share their pain and joy on their cards. They told me that no one had ever brought them such an abundance of art materials before. We talked about their children, their dreams and their suffering, and the suffering of women around the world, but mostly we were silent and engaged in a quiet process of choosing colors shapes and textures that told our stories. Afterwards one woman told me that she had not felt anything for so long, and that today she felt happy. They were excited to give their cards away, and I asked them to write: “If you could hear what the woman who received your postcard was thinking, what would she say?” She wrote, “This card represents what I have to do for myself, my family my future. Everything is going to be okay. There is hope.” So many women spoke of wanting her to feel peaceful, safe, happy or inspired. Each woman also received a postcard. Cards were spread out on a table and every woman chose her own card…a card that they were drawn to for some reason, whether it was the color or the imagery or the writing, it didn’t matter. They all felt as if they had picked the perfect card for them and were incredibly happy to take it home. Some said they would frame it.
Mary Daniel: Collaboration is such a big component of this project – could you speak some about how you have fostered connections that have allowed this project to grow and expand?
I think I just care enough about providing a voice that I am constantly looking and asking for support! Almost everyone wants to help. Sometimes I find them, and sometimes they find me. It is always a collaboration made with a mutual intention of bringing voice and visibility to women and to women’s issues, and a knowledge that art making has the ability to help make that connection. I look for individuals and organizations that are aligned with integrity and committed to empowering women and girls. We collaborate and create partnerships that deepen the scope of the work we are both interested in doing. I have partnered with Women for Afghan Women, Soroptimist International, V-DAY, Daraja Academy, the Peace Corps, STAND!, Cinnamongirl Inc, In Movement-Art for Social Change and many local community centers and schools. All these organizations have helped create and move cards around the world by participating in the workshops and by introducing Traveling Postcards to their communities. With this support, thus far Traveling Postcards has collected over 1000 handmade cards carrying voices to and from the Congo, Rwanda, Armenia, Uganda, Costa Rica, Niger, Namibia, North America, Haiti, Afghanistan and Peru.
Mary Daniel: Afghanistan is a place that you were very driven and inspired to bring Traveling Postcards. Could you share the story of how you achieved that?
Caroline: I have long known that Afghanistan is one of the worst places on earth to be a woman. Every two hours a mother dies in Afghanistan due to pregnancy or birth related problems and 80% of women experience some sort of abuse or violence. Educational opportunities are marginal, especially for women who need the permission of a male family member to attend school. The scars of perpetual war are everywhere. Creative freedom is limited, and I wanted to give a community of women in Afghanistan a chance to be heard and seen in whatever way they wanted.
In order to accomplish my goal I began by contacting Trust In Education (TIE), a local nonprofit, that travels to Afghanistan twice a year, building schools and fostering close relationships within the community. Trust In Education agreed to carry Traveling Postcards on their next visit, and I organized and held several workshops to make postcards in my community. Through TIE I met an Afghan woman, living in the States who was building her own school for girls in her former village in Farza. This is an exceptional and dangerous task as most village leaders are men and do not approve of a woman being in such a position of leadership. We arranged for her to facilitate card making in her village.
Finding a facilitator on the ground is the hardest part of my job running Traveling Postcards. I must provide clear workshop instructions and I will often need to include a translation of the project in the local language. I also provide all the materials for the event, if resources are limited. In this case I sent a package of art materials to a US army base where I hoped a particular soldier whose name I had been given, would then deliver the material to another TIE representative! Several months later, I found out that there had been a miscommunication, the Traveling Postcards that were sent had not been distributed, and I never learned if the materials had arrived. My facilitator was confused, and although she did make some cards with family members, I do not believe the true nature of the work was translated or understood. I did receive some great artwork form the local children, and I believe the effort was appreciated. We also raised over $1000 to start an after school art class in a local village where Trust In Education works. I did learn an important lesson, which was to make certain that the organizations I collaborate with understand and share my concern and focus and also understand the power of creative action to heal and strengthen hearts. My next effort was more successful.
I felt very strongly that the original cards that were made for Afghan women, all of which traveled to Afghanistan and back, eventually make it to their intended destination…into the hands of individual women! I knew of a much larger international organization that advocates for human rights and the rights of Afghan women -- Women For Afghan Women runs and maintains eight private shelters for women in multiple provinces in Afghanistan. I began to send emails to various staff and board members; I even attempted to contact them through LinkedIn! I was very determined and could think only of the women I wanted to honor. Every time I am stopped in this project, I remember the women’s voices I want to hear and share and keep moving forward. I finally connected with a wonderfully supportive (and busy!) board member and eventually the whole organization. I offered to fly to New York and lead a Traveling Postcards workshop at their Queens Community Center, hoping to connect the local New York Afghan population with the Afghan women living in the shelters. In addition I was to meet, Shukria, a female Afghan lawyer who runs the shelters and who was visiting from Afghanistan. She would attend my workshop, bring the cards back to the shelters and help facilitate more postcard making opportunities for the women and girls living in the shelters.
I made the decision to act as if I was already the organization I hope to become. I dropped everything, found a cheap flight, flew to New York, led the workshop and flew back to California, all within 24 hours. It was an incredible experience because in that short amount of time I deeply connected to the amazing women who participated in the workshop and found myself a part of their community, eating the food they prepared, listening to their stories, and playing with their children. It was a situation that I would never have found myself in if not for Traveling Postcards. I realized that I was not separate or different, but very similar despite our cultural and geographic distance…and I was not even in Afghanistan…yet!
Mary Daniel: What excites you most about your work right now? What is the next step in the evolution of this project?
Caroline: Currently I am in the middle of a 40-hour domestic violence training provided by the Center for Domestic Peace in Marin County. I am learning that the fight against violence is really a continuation of the women’s movement that has been in existence for hundreds of years. The right for women to be free of violence and the demand to treat all people as equal in value is the backbone of the work I am interested in doing. I am really excited to deepen my knowledge of the movement and to begin to see the systems that are in place that keep women isolated, diminished and suffering worldwide. I would like to see Traveling Postcards infiltrate those institutions and go where the need is most in any part of the world where oppression occurs and woman and girls are isolated and disconnected from their global sisters. I would like to provide art as a healing tool that can offer compassionate listening, hope, love and access to authentic voice.
I would also like to grow Traveling Postcards into a self-sustaining organization that provides information and resources about the creative process and techniques about how art can be used for social change. I would like to implement a system to measure effectiveness and results. One idea I have is to record stories of where the cards have traveled to and follow up with participants. What changes occurred as a direct result of making or receiving a card? Another new idea I have is to take Traveling Postcards on the road! I want to set up a mobile Traveling Postcard studio and travel across the US holding workshops in communities and creating relationships with other art and healing organizations. I imagine traveling with different artists for periods of time and setting up destinations in advance where women’s needs would be highlighted. I am hoping to create additional leadership curriculum that educates through art and I would like to make an educational video about Traveling Postcards, art and human rights. I would love to collaborate with other artists who are doing creative work in the women’s movement and of course I would love to keep photographing women’s stories and weave them into the workshops. I would like to deepen the personal connection of our postcards and have the universality of our experiences be available for all to learn from.
Mary Daniel: How can others who are interested in this great work you are doing get involved in Traveling Postcards?
Please make a postcard! Traveling Postcards is an opportunity to be held for the time it takes to create a card and then celebrated as your voice joins hundreds of others to stand strongly in the face of repression and isolation. Traveling Postcards workshops are easy and fun for everyone. Anyone can become a facilitator and host a workshop in their community, and we encourage everyone to get involved. We have directions and guidelines on the website and lots of good ideas about art materials and how to get started. Men are also encouraged to participate by finding their voice and honoring a woman who has made a difference in their lives. Also, we always love to receive an individual card in the mail. If you feel more comfortable making your card at home, please feel free to do so. We hope you will share your voice with the world!
Please learn more! There are many issues that affect the well being of women and their communities -- education, healthcare, violence, lack of economic resources, trafficking, to name just a few. Find an issue that matters to you and use art to find your voice and share your concern. Use the resources we provide online as a starting point. Learning more about the issues will empower you as you discover what really resonates with your heart.
We are always looking for facilitators on the ground, either individuals or organizations who would be willing to lead workshops with communities of women and girls who are isolated and disconnected from the larger global population. Sometimes we have volunteers who will pack Traveling Postcards in their suitcase and give them away while they are traveling. It is a great way to make a personal connection by giving a gift of love.
Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for other artists who would like to use their creativity for healing and transformation?
Caroline: I encourage you to follow your instincts, find people who are doing similar work and learn all you can. What are you already passionate about? What community do you have natural ties to? I think it helps to just start…do something that allows for your vision to be out in the world even a little! Once you can see it, it becomes more and more tangible. Don’t give up on your vision and don’t be afraid of failing. Stay connected to your own creative process and remember that you are not separate. Your own healing and discovery will serve as a guide to your work in the world. I have always loved this quote: “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”-Aboriginal Activists Group, Queensland Lastly, take time for yourself, slow down if you can and open your heart to share your wonderful wisdom with the world! We need you.
Mary Daniel: One of the most frequently asked questions we get at the Arts & Healing Network is about funding creative projects. What advice would you offer another artist who was seeking financial support for their work?
Caroline: Well, this is a new frontier for me as well! My plan is multi-tiered. First I would get very clear on what you are offering and how it works. A business plan is a good idea. Be able to explain it to anyone, especially someone who has no experience in the art world! Secondly, do your homework. How much funding does your project need to be sustainable and why? Have very real numbers -- it costs more than you think (your ideas are also worth more than you think!) and don’t forget to include funding for yourself! Thirdly, get help. No one can work alone and everyone has different expertise. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice. Just make sure you partner with integrity. Lastly, be persistent, find organizations who share your vision and contact them. Don’t be afraid of rejection and look everywhere you can…social media, community groups, corporations, private donors, fundraising events…try everything!
Mary Daniel: Along your creative journey, were there any particular mentors or advice or that inspired you and helped you to generate Traveling Postcards?
Caroline: When I first began Traveling Postcards I stumbled across Mother Teresa’s quote:
“In this life we cannot do great things. We can only do small things with great love.”
I taped this advice to my computer and looked at it every day! It gave me hope to keep going even when I felt my idea was too small (only the size of a postcard!) and inadequate to effect change at the global level. I also admire Eve Ensler for her work in ending violence against women through transformative community theatre. Her style of activism is different than mine, but I admire her strength, her persistence and her commitment to ending violence. I am in awe of Naomi Natale for her ability to show us in her One Million Bones project what genocide looks like and to make real a concept that is so hard to imagine.
Mary Daniel: Why do you think art can be such a potent catalyst for positive change and healing?
Caroline: Creativity is a bridge to our authentic wisdom and to our ability to heal ourselves. It is available to everyone. It is a universal language that cannot be restricted due to ethnicity, education, or economics. Art provides a much needed opportunity to see that we are not limited by our immediate circumstances and that by accessing and seeing our unique wisdom, we can choose to be fully expressed in our own communities and create a better life for ourselves and for those around us. I see art as a healing tool not to “fix” someone but to engage with them clearly and without judgment as they walk in their own process. Our stories can become guidance and wisdom for one another as we are faced with new challenges. Often I see a letting go process that stops self blame and instead engages us to the present and to what is possible. Creative action allows for a mindful interaction with whatever circumstances we find ourselves in. Throughout this interaction we are finding our authentic wisdom and can begin to recognize its shape and character.
Mary Daniel: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Caroline: I want to thank the Art & Healing Network for honoring me with this award. I am deeply moved and very grateful. I am encouraged to keep working and to find new opportunities for creative action to heal and empower.
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