Billy’s Talk at 1990’s Annual Dinner – Children’s Art & Environment Project

By Billy Lee, May 30th, 2003

You know, at every major event, the early presentations are not that important. Usually people arrive late and intentionally skip them. But ah ha, tonight, I have you sandwiched between Dinner and the Main Event so you are trapped.

The so called 1990 Institute’s US- China Children’s Art and Environment Project is a simple Two-Phase Project – started two years ago.

First Phase: The 1990 with CEEC-SEPA and CNCC were to conduct a children’s art contest in China-on the subject of Environment.

Second Phase: 100 best drawings to be brought to the United States and exhibited around this country for 2 years.

The Goal was to use Art as vehicle to Educate and to Increase Awareness of Environmental Concerns important to the Children from both countries. During the process we hope that the our children will develop a global perspective and enjoy building Trust, Goodwill, and Friendship.

So far the First Phase has been amazingly successful.    Last October we had a Opening Awards Celebration at the CNCC in Beijing. Honorary Co-Chairs Mrs Sarah Randt ( wife of US Amb to China ), Minister Xie  (SEPA), Mme. Gu (ACWF) and many other dignitaries were present with hundreds of children and family members. The event was covered by National TV, newspapers and all types of magazines.   There, we have engaged supposedly one million some children from one thousand plus different locations in China, challenged thousands of teachers, pulled along  maybe another 3 million parents, grandparents and relatives, involved a few very influential government leaders, touched a huge populated Public, and made deeper bonds with colleagues at CEEC-SEPA and CNCC – with whom we will likely collaborate on future projects.

The final selected 100 drawings are Awesome, commented several of my friends.  David  McCullough, my Yale class-mate, and twice pulitzer- price winner for his bios on Truman and John Adams was an Honorary Advisor to our project.  He wrote to me after he received a copy of the Booklet on the children’s art: “ Billy, You must be very proud of the way the exhibit turned out.  The catalogue is just beautiful, and interesting in a way that very few such collections of children’s art rarely are.  It’s the theme that is so compelling and the immense variety of expression.  Good for you, Old Friend.”   Here, I need to thank Jiong Ma who carefully coordinated the design of booklet with our colleagues in China.   Thanks, Jiong !

Eighty drawings are now being exhibited ( from April to July 27th) at the beautiful Coyote Pt. Museum for Environmental Education in S.M.- near S.F. Airport Blvd.   It will travel to New Canaan Nature Center and New Canaan Library in Sept.and Oct..   From Nov. to Feb. ’04, it will be shown at Bishop Museum in Honolulu.  Houston Children’s Museum now wants it for May to August in 2005. I am still working on various possibilities for the period in between. Ah! Gil Grosvenor, Chairman of NGS ( played Soccer with me at Yale) has just referred me to their Exhib Director. Hopefully, we will have a Venue in Wash. D.C., and I sure like to  involve Laura Bush and the Amb. and Mrs.Yang JieChi  at the D.C. Opening Ceremony.

So how well is this Second Phase going so far. The Exhibits in the U.S.?

Pat Koblenz, Edu. Dir. did a fantastic job with the Inaugural Exhibit at he Coyote Pt, Museum on April 5.  She invited many local organizations and personalities to get involved:  The SSMC EDU. T.F., Kollage Community Center for the Arts, Art Share, Recycle Works of SMC, and local children’s music and dance groups.   SMC Supervisor Jerry Hill and the PRC’s Gen. Consul Amb. Wang YX, Consul Hong Lei, and Vice Consul Wang Qiang all enthusiastically participated.      Betsie Hennings ( Exec. Direc) wrote me recently and claimed that she had noticed an increase in Museum attendance already. That’s a Real Good Sign!

Many peripheral activities have also sprung up: Richard Sperisen, coordinator of Arts Education and School Bldg. Designs at SMC Office of Education took 20 from the 100 drawings  and created an attractive mini exhibit which is touring the various schools within SM county. He reported interesting discussions between students and teachers.  Now, that is the reaction we hoped to stir up.

SMC Recycle Works asked if we can arrange for U.S. Children’s Art to travel in China. They are also considering the use of one of the Chinese Children’s drawings for the cover of their Green Building Magazine.

Right now, The New Canaan Nature Center and  Library in Conn, is getting ready to host the exhibit this Sept. and Oct.  They told me they have created a slogan: Thru the Eyes of a Child, We Wonder of Other Cultures, Delight in Differences, Share Passion.

They are going to publicize this event in local newspapers and in The New York Times.  They have gotten OCA of Fairfield County involved- and also a group called Families with Children from China (FCC). One of the FCC members, Ron Lewis is a well know artist, and he may conduct a special workshop on the Opening Day. Children’ Choir from West School will also perform, they told me.

I am planning to go there and round up 30 some Yale and Andover Classmates in the vicinity to join me for a mini reunion.  I may have to entertain them, however, with my song “The Scream” which some of you heard me yelled at the Coyote Pt. Museum Opening.

I expect wonderful things to happen at each of the eight to ten venues we are planning to have. Things are snowballing.  In order to catch and sustain this momentum our committee has created an inter-connecting Website   It is now in a rudimentary stage, but we plan to further develop it, refine it and definitely provide a bilingual capability soon. It will have galleries to show children’s and adults’ art works, forum to provide discussions, special news on Art or Environment, and a reference resource  that teachers would appreciate. This actually has become our Project Phase Three.

As I review the status so far,  I see that we have indeed built an attractive Bridge- many thanks to Jim Caldwell, Jiong Ma, and Rebecca Zhou.   But the Inter-connecting Website is only a bridge. We need to give much more thoughts on to attract children and and adults from both sides to get on it, 3 more thoughts on what kind of traffic we should encourage on it, and how to make the traffic move to and fro smoothly, efficiently, and joyously. What other things we need to do to create bonding?  Get the children to visit each other?

I am now in the process of forming a Creative Advisory Committee for this Inter-connecting website development.  It should involve enlightened people in Education, Art , Environment, Communications, Media, Poetry, story-telling, psychology, science, and some Out-of-the-box wild ideas. Our Project success will be measured not just by the width of its extension, and the volume of traffic, but  by the depth of its impact on everyone touched in different ways during the process. The important questions are: What kind of impacts and how can they be sustained ?

What does all this have to do with International Relations?  Remember Dr. Bill Fuller’s talk last year about the Importance of Public Perception in shaping Foreign Policies. I think this project can build better understanding. But more importantly we need to plant seeds to grow Trust and Goodwill.

In conclusion, I  like to thank all of you I call Angels who have given this Project time, labor, contribution, advice, or just moral support.  The back of the sheet on your table acknowledges many generous contributors, I really want to thank again those volunteers and committee members who selflessly gave their valuable time, energy and creative input. Earlier I wrote an article on Eight Very Special Angels, which three relatives helped translate  into Chinese.  I really should write another article at the end of this Project.  It will probably be titled “My One Thousand Special Angels” 

At Kepler’s Children Books Section last week I found a verse by a Persian Poet 1207-1273 Jald Ud Din Rumi. Titled: The Face of That Angel I have modified it a bit and made it :

The Faces of These Angels
The Faces of these Angels
Landed  in my heart
Is there anyone as lucky as I
And as Happy too,  I may ask ?
I hear about words difficult and impossible
But my heart truly does not know what they are

Thank you very much for indulging with my Bula Bula !