A Durango artist traveled to Krakow, Poland, late this month to help refugees fleeing the Ukraine-Russia war by teaching visual arts in hopes to inspire people and help them heal from their traumas.
Suzanne Horwich, who has spent the last two years living in Durango, is a mother, educator and abstract artist, as well as a producer and photographer. She said her goal is to help refugees “imagine, create and heal” through art lessons. She also plans to facilitate a large-scale installation piece in which she will invite others to contribute.
“I really recognize the power of imagination and the healing properties that come with imagination,” she said. “You create a lot of hope. When you’re talking about art, you’re really talking about beauty.”
Horwich organized her trip with the Jewish Community Center of Krakow. She said the center has been feeding or giving supplies to 300 to 500 refugees daily and has served about 60,000 refugees over the past 10 weeks.
The center pivoted from the role of a basic Jewish Community Center into a humanitarian aid facility “overnight,” she said. It is providing medicine, food, clothing, housing and day care in addition to lending support to LGBTQ groups and women’s groups.
Horwich said she wants to “elevate the spirit and lift the energy” of refugees by creating art with refugees of all ages. She is bringing an art kit with her and intends to buy more supplies to provide refugees with portable art kits of their own. She withdrew money from her 401(k) to support her travels, she said.
Horwich has lived and worked as an artist in Istanbul, Turkey; Scotland; Israel; the Caribbean; and Colorado, but she has never been to Poland.
“It’s a little nerve-wracking because I don’t know exactly what I’m walking into because I’m sure there’s a lot of trauma going on,” she said.
She loves working with artists together on a campus and that’s the sort of vibe she wants to provide to refugees.
“I love the freedom of everyone just working together, no pressure,” she said. “And I have taught that in the past. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
Horwich said her first trip, which is scheduled to last seven days, is really just her “pilot trip.”
“I’m very aware that with great possibility I’m going to have to alter what I think,” she said.
She is prepared to reassess her vision and her program, fine-tune it and return with a refined idea of how to help refugees in Krakow.
“But the theme running through this is ‘imagine, create, heal,’” she said. “Whatever way I can help make that happen, I’m going to figure it out.”
Horwich partnered with the Jewish Community Center in Aspen to open an art gallery in 2014. When she was seeking ways to bring her art experience to refugees in Poland, she made good headway with the Jewish Community Center in Krakow.
She pitched her idea to the center about three weeks ago, and within the same day she received an enthusiastic response, she said.
“I pitched it, and in under 24 hours this organization said we are offering trauma therapy already and we think that what you want to do would dovetail so nicely,” she said.
Horwich said she is trying to set up a fundraiser but everything is moving so fast that she is still trying to set up her website for it.
After her weeklong trip to Poland, Horwich plans to return to her two daughters, ages 10 and 14, in Durango and contemplate how she will tackle her next trip, she said. She has also scheduled two speaking engagements for July and September, where she wants to raise awareness about the situation with refugees in Poland, talk about the Jewish Community Center of Krakow’s humanitarian efforts and share her own efforts to contribute to that humanitarian aid.
Horwich said she has a daily mantra. She asks herself every morning how she plans to “live joyously” that day. Every evening before bed, she asks herself how she can live with more joy the next day.
She said she knows it sounds a bit cheesy but she lives by it.
“I am a big believer that the energy you put behind everything dictates the outcome,” she said. “Now, I know that there are exceptions. But I am a firm believer in people’s perspectives, people’s attitudes, people’s energy, and that is how I came to this.”