The Power Of Heroes [VIDEO] - Kenneth Rainin Foundation

The Power Of Heroes [VIDEO]

Two people watch as a person pulls ink on a screen at a printing table. Screenprinting for "The Heroes Of Unity" project. Photo credit: Jamie DeWolf

Who are your heroes and why do they matter? That question was at the heart of the Heroes of Unity project, featured in the video below and supported by the Kenneth Rainin Foundation’s Open Spaces Program.

In 2019 and 2020, a group of young artists and their mentors brought mobile printmaking stations to Oakland and San Francisco events to spark conversation and invite community participation around this question. This project highlights the power of art to help bring people together around personal stories of migration, relocation, identity, and citizenship. Ultimately, it created connections to history and community, and formed a portrait of a diverse city and the power of heroes in our lives.

With the project now completed, we wondered how the youth artists looked back on their involvement. We invited two project participants—Fusako Chapman and Daria Belle—to reflect on their experience and what they learned.

The “Heroes of Unity” project was a collaboration among The Unity Council, Oakland Public Library and lead artists Sergio de la Torre and Gonzalo Hidalgo, along with Justin Hoover and Chris Treggiari of the Collective Action Studio. Video Credit: Jamie DeWolf

Reflections by Fusako Chapman

A person in a colorful jacket holds up a pink screen printing with the text, "cooking carries our stories."
Fusako Chapman holds up their screen printed work, “cooking carries our stories,” in the Collective Action Studio space. Photo credit: Jamie DeWolf

Heroes of Unity was an amazing learning opportunity for me. I got to meet so many artists, both mentors and other students my age. Nothing is cooler than getting to work collaboratively and create rad art with other youth! It was my first introduction to public and community engagement art, which is the direction I hope my practice lands in the future.

One of my most important moments from the program came from our First Friday pop up in Oakland. The design I was printing was called “Cooking carries our stories,” which I created after interviewing my grandfather. I’m a 4th generation Chinese-American, and there are a lot of times where I feel very distanced from my heritage. 

Neither of my grandparents speak Mandarin anymore and they don’t have the same ties to cultural celebrations. For my family, cooking is the best way that we can engage with our culture and connect to those who came before us. Despite the imagery being specific to me and my Chinese-American background, the story was extremely relatable to the people at the pop up. I got to chat with a lot of folks from all different backgrounds who similarly felt that cooking was important to their heritage. They shared their own stories with me after I shared mine, and the ways they looked up to their ancestors and own immigrant histories. Food was the clearest means of remembering the heroes of our family.

I’m working with Collective Action Studio again this winter as a teaching assistant and long-distance mural collaborator. With a team of mentors, a large group of student artists is working to activate spaces in Oakland and San Francisco with murals for social justice. I can’t be with them painting in person as I’m at college in Washington, but it’s been really important to stay in contact with everyone and be involved in some sort of artist space.

Reflections by Daria Belle

A young person stands next to their screen printing, which is showcased on the side of a bus stop.
Daria Belle stands next to her artwork “But. Still I Rise” in downtown Oakland. Photo courtesy of Daria Belle

During my time in the Heroes of Unity project, the most important things I gained were the relationships that I formed and the one-of-a-kind experience working with professional artists to get important messages out. I was the youngest participant, so being around all of these young artists who are more developed in their style helped me find myself in my own art. I was able to receive the resources and the critiques I need to better get my message across or make my piece stand out. In one of my pieces is my former neighbor who turned her life around after being homeless, and she gave me such a sense of hope. Another hero was one of my peer’s uncles who stood up for what he believed in even though he knew there would be consequences.

Through this experience, I better understand the work of art activists and the process of getting a design or print out into the community. In a more practical sense, I definitely learned a lot about the design process and meeting in the middle with other people in order to create something everyone can be happy with.

Unity Through Community

Heroes of Unity was an intergenerational program of artists that looked at how to unify a divided society. It was a collaboration among The Unity CouncilOakland Public Library and lead artists Sergio de la Torre and Gonzalo Hidalgo, and Justin Hoover and Chris Treggiari of the Collective Action Studio.

The Kenneth Rainin Foundation’s  Open Spaces Program supports temporary public art that addresses pressing community issues while cultivating connection and creative expression. We invite you to watch the above video to see the amazing young artists at work.