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Charlottean promotes aid to Colombia’s poor

By Mark Price
msprice@charlotte.com

Charlotte’s best known Latino artist – with financial backing from several businesses – will immortalize 1,000 children from Colombia, South America, in art the first week of August.

Artist Edwin Gil says the intent is to promote a preschool education program in Colombia that helps children raised in the same impoverished conditions he endured as a child in Medellin, Colombia.

All 1,000 participants in the project will be from Medellin’s poorest neighborhoods. Each will contribute a thumb print to create a large colored glass mural that could grow to as many as 2,000 pieces, says Gil, who moved to the United States 13 years ago.

“I was from a family of six living in one-room apartment, with a bathroom outside that we shared with others,” recalls Gil.

“The bedroom was also my mother’s kitchen and when it rained, she put out pots ’cause the roof leaked onto the bed. But we were still happy, because we thought that was how everyone lived.”

He hopes to show the 1,000 children by example that one of their own found a way out of poverty through art.

Gil is now one of Charlotte’s most successful artists, working for patrons via commissions. He has also earned a reputation in the community for combining art with social responsibility, including anti-bullying projects through a partnership with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

The Colombia project is called “Faces of Diversity” and is done in cooperation with a foreign relations program launched by the Mayor’s Office of Medellin.

Backing is also coming from a handful of Charlotte businesses, including AirTight, Rooster Communications and Toolwell, as well as two companies in Medellin, Clamasan and Agro MAIS.

Representatives from four of the companies will be in Medellin to help collect thumb prints, via events organized by project team leader Brian Cockman of Rooster Communications.

Connie Crumpton of AirTight recently visited Colombia and says she hopes Gil’s effort will prompt greater support in that country for Buen Comienzo, a variation of a Head Start program for preschoolers.

The World Bank says more than 34 percent of Colombia’s population lives below the poverty level, and the nation lacks a strong social safety net.

Crumpton is among the business leaders who will participate in the events in Medellin.

“Edwin is an artist of some renown in Colombia. I think he is right on target using his art as a way to bring awareness,” says Crumpton, noting Gil’s art is typically larger than life. “Hopefully, the publicity there will have people in that country asking what they can do to help these kids.”

Gil sees the project in Medellin as a variation of his efforts in Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, but rather than focusing on racial differences, it will focus on socio-economic differences.

The thousands of piece of glass involved will collectively create a portrait of one of the thousand children, each of whom will be photographed for inclusion on Gil’s website: www.edwingil.com.

“I hope most of all that the project gives them hope,” he says, “and it shows them that cultural differences and socio-economic differences don’t matter.

“We’re all the same.”

Price: 704-358-5245
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