“Art has the ability to heal wounds— especially gifted art. It’s someone saying ‘I want you to have something beautiful that I sweated over,’” says Barbie Huffman, founder of Midwest HeArt. “You can look at it and see the effort put into it just for you.”
Huffman, 33 and a longtime Toledo artist and activist, recently formed the organization. Attending the Women’s Convention in Detroit, she learned about the difficulties many refugees face when attempting to settle in America. “It was very sobering and inspirational.”
“Midwest HeArt is dedicated to providing arts and crafts to the refugee population in Toledo, so that their houses can feel more like homes— and to send the message that they are welcomed here,” says Huffman, who acts as president of the organization.
Elizabeth Mohler, 26, heard about Huffman’s idea from a mutual friend and immediately signed up to help.
“My mother is from the Philippines, and when I was growing up in Omaha, Nebraska with her, she was involved with a Filipino association that welcomed anyone. It’s so important for communities to welcome people from other countries,” said Mohler, who has previous experience organizing for nonprofits and is now the organization’s vice president.
To build inroads to the refugee community, the group is currently talking to organizations such as Welcome Toledo-Lucas County, US Together, and the Toledo Muslim Community Center. As many refugees in the area come from Syria and Iraq, special attention is being given to the Arabic and Muslim communities.
Support for Midwest HeArt is support for a stronger, more welcoming community, says Mohler. “We all have to work together. Without a strong foundation, how can we grow?”
The public debut of Midwest HeArt, a one-night-only gallery show, Journey, on Saturday, January 27 at Central Academy of Ohio on Kenwood Blvd., will display art donated from over a dozen local artists recruited by Huffman— including Nate Masternak, Jennifer Black, and Andrea Baker. Attendance is free, with refreshments provided by Food Not Bombs and music by local talent Nick Reno.
At Journey, refugees will be invited to meet and fraternize with members of the local art scene— and to take home art that they like, without cost. Huffman hopes to make this an annual event and for the group to organize more events, such as a family art day, and to fundraise for partner organizations.
6:30pm. Saturday, January 27
Central Academy of Ohio,
2727 Kenwood Blvd., 419-343-3447.
To get involved with Midwest HeArt,