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The Kids Are All Right

AIE student gives youth in Nepal the chance to express themselves

By Bobby Dorigo Jones, on May 20, 2017 1:21 PM

Sneha ShresthaDozens of thick, inky letters overlap each other across the canvas — a cascade of teal, then yellow and orange, over a black backdrop. A small crowd shelters Sneha Shrestha, Ed.M.’17, founder of the Children’s Art Museum of Nepal (CAM), from the chilling December air coming through the open door of a live art show in Harvard Square.

“All the words say, ‘You can imagine too!’” says Shrestha, who goes by the name “Imagine” in the art world. Nepal’s first female graffiti artist and a student in the Arts in Education (AIE) Program, Shrestha paints the calligraphy of the Nepali alphabet into mesmerizing fractal arrangements. “My culture is very close to my heart. The script is centuries old. It deserves more appreciation for its aesthetics.”

Shrestha first began painting on the walls of her bedroom as a kid. She only really enjoyed art at home because, in her experience, Nepali schools encourage academic skills over creative enterprises. “In Nepal in general, creativity is not allowed in schools,” she says. Like other students, Shrestha was subtly and systematically nudged away from expressing her creative self, a realization she came to after deciding on an arts major at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. While there, she decided “there needs to be a place where kids can just be kids, where they can do what they want and express themselves the way that makes sense to them,” she says.

A few years later, while living in Boston, Shrestha applied-for a grant to build her dream, launched a crowdfunding campaign, and moved home to Nepal. Within months, she founded CAM in Kathmandu, with the mission of being the first sustainable art space for Nepali youth.

Shresta quickly learned that the growing museum’s needs outweighed her own under-standing of how to run an organization. “All the strategizing I was doing was just me,” she says. A mentor, Caleb Neelon, Ed.M.’04, suggested the AIE Program.

She applied and was accepted in early 2015, but a couple months later, disaster struck. A massive 7.8 magnitude earthquake tore through Nepal in April of that year, upending many communities and lives. The CAM quickly reorganized and raised money to send its staff out into affected communities. Shrestha postponed her admission to Harvard, opting to remain at home and help youth start healing from the traumatic event. Over three months, CAM worked with UNICEF to reach more than 5,000 affected children through art.

“The museum’s role has evolved into a support system for our children experiencing trauma from the earthquake. Our staff have been trained by art therapists now. We used to have a lot of kids visit us; now we go to the schools,” Shresta says. “Because of the earthquake, many schools think there’s even less of a reason to do things like the arts when, in reality, this is when [children] need it the most.”

Bobby Dorigo Jones is a new graduate of the Education Policy and Management Program and an intern with Ed.