EAC Tuesday New American Highlight: New Skills

Sunday Jun 11th, 2023

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Let's Learn More about New Skills

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This month, Erie Arts & Culture spotlights different New American artists to honor World Refugee Day, an international celebration that acknowledges the strength and contributions refugees make in their new homes.


Mustafa in SharpsvilleStudents and teachers in Sharpsville, Titusville, and Erie got a taste of traditional music, dance, and crafts and New American artists from Erie got valuable experience in sharing their art forms. EAC Folklorist-in-Residence Kelly Armor stated, “We often ask newcomers to explain their traditions without realizing how difficult it can be. Imagine being in a completely different culture, negotiating a new language, and then having to describe customs and a worldview with little context. This spring we tried a technique that got students to be anthropologists. It was really successful!” 

First students read biographies and studied photos of the visiting artists and came up with a list of questions. Then the artists demonstrated their art form and answered questions. The artists then returned a second day to lead an activity and answer more questions. “Reading the biographies really created anticipation in the students, and gave them real responsibility,” continued Armor, “and the artists learned a lot about the students by the nature of their questions. This process was a catalyst for creating camaraderie between the students and artists.”

After spending 2 days with 11 different classrooms Mustafa Albalkhi said, “Some teachers worked closely with me and that helped. The smiles of teachers and students gave me confidence. The last day I was not afraid anymore. In Syria, I used to teach people how to be music teachers. Now that I feel strong about teaching in America I am now thinking about all those lessons again.”

Artists included Fatima Athow (Sudanese henna), Ali Alnashmi (a fine artist from Iraq), Ansumana Komba Gbembo (Sierra Leone clothing design) Esther Hong (Korean watercolor), David Kambowa (Congolese gospel music), Mustafa Albalkhi (Syrian oud player), and Victoria Angelo (Acholi African dance). All except Esther came to Erie as refugees. They have all built new lives in Erie and represent a wealth of cultural knowledge for our region.

David Kambowa found the work inspiring, “Being in the schools was a great experience. I worked with a large number of students of different ages. It was my first time doing that. I experienced that people were very open. When I talked about my culture, we listened to each other, and I was grateful for how they received me. I had lots of good testimony from the children especially at Harding Elementary School. Students told me getting to sing and dance together made this their best year yet, and was the best way to end the school year.”

This project made possible by support from

Erie Arts & Culture

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