The Arts and Healing Network presents the 2002 AHN Award to Lily Yeh, founder of the Village of Arts and Humanities which for over 15 years has been facilitating major transformations in inner-city Philadelphia USA. Thanks to the efforts of the Village of Arts and Humanities, what was once a run-down neighborhood is now a place rich with community spirit and beauty.
The project started small. Lily, an artist and university teacher, had the idea to transform one lot in Philadelphia USA. In 1985, when she began, she explains,"I didn't know how to do it. I was scared, being an Asian woman [in a primarily African-American neighborhood] - I'd be an outsider, and I almost bowed out. But I felt there was a voice in me and if I didn't rise to the occasion, the best part of me would die." She continues, "In the beginning, I had no idea what to do. I bought rakes and shovels and began with a circle in the center. Children came to help; the energy and feeling was great." She really credits the children with having been instrumental in this work. "I did not know how to lead. It was the children who taught me how. The children, through their innocence, curiosity, joy, and willingness to take part showed me the power and source of their creative energy. Their participation forced me to figure out a different way of doing things. That was when I learned how to be a leader. A real leader understands the art of following."
What followed was the creation of a colorful garden with mosaics and murals that engaged the entire neighborhood. Its success prompted the founding of the Village of Arts and Humanities in 1986. As Lily explains, "We call it a village because the center, our focus, is right here. We transform the neighborhood and through that we build people and we heal from the bottom up." Since its founding, the Village has worked with tens of thousands of people to provide a wide variety of arts education programs, renovate abandoned properties, rebuild the environment, conduct experiential training, create jobs, and celebrate achievements together through festivals, theater, exhibitions, and publications.
The Village has grown into an award winning, nationally-recognized model for building community through art and their partnerships and consulting services now span the globe from Philadelphia to Italy, Kenya, the Ivory Coast, the Republic of Georgia, China and beyond.
The Arts and Healing Network applauds Lily for being a model of transformation by following her inner voice despite fears, taking one step at a time, listening deeply, being humble and open, and in so doing, nourishing what wants to be born. Upon receiving the AHN Award, Lily writes, "One must follow the feel that comes from the heart and the energy that surges forth directly from life itself. I find it in bountiful supplies in working with children and with people often in places broken. I want to continue to work with children and to go to those difficult places where we can create magic together through art and experience that sense of wonder about life."