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Refugee wins hyper-local crowdfunding for new art center

Patrick Wangoi pitches his idea for a art center focused on the work produced by refugees at Feast Boise VII. Photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell.

Patrick Wangoi pitches his idea for an art center focused on the work produced by refugees at Feast Boise VII. Photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell.

Patrick Wangoi was 15 when war in the Democratic Republic of Congo drove him from his home and to a refuge in Tanzania. He lived there for five years until the refugee resettlement agency International Rescue Committee helped him move to Boise.

Wangoi is now a senior in Boise State University’s social work program, and has created a support group for refugees, Heart of Compassion Group, that assists families with transportation, language development, medical record-keeping and other needs.

IRC and other resettlement agencies often offer similar services, but those services are limited to agency clients during their first few months living in the area.

“For a foreigner, it is really hard to have only six months of services,” Wangoi said. “Some of these individuals have never gone to school and some have PTSD which makes it hard for them to recall information. It can be lonely.”

Wangoi’s own sense of loneliness and the experiences working in his support group and seeing the talents that many of his friends possessed inspired him to take on a bigger project: A center where refugees can show art, hold events such as concerts and festivals, and teach classes.

“Through my own experiences, I have really struggled in this area,” Wangoi said. “I don’t always feel a part of this community. I feel pulled between two communities. I can do all the right things, but I don’t have the right connections and that makes it hard.”

Wangoi took the first steps to creating his center June 22 when he pitched his idea at Feast Boise VII, and won $1,373.

“Art helps the soul of the human,” Wangoi said. “This can give refugees a center where they can meet and a center where they can connect to people through their art.”

Feast Boise

Feast Boise is an annual pitch competition for art and community projects founded in 2012 by Chelsea Snow and Meshel Ledet.

Everyone who purchased a $25 ticket to Feast VIII was fed a meal, catered by a local vendor, and was allowed to vote for which project they wanted to see funded. Photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell.

Everyone who purchased a $25 ticket to Feast VII was fed a meal catered by a local vendor and was allowed to vote for which project they wanted to see funded. Photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell.

Ledet and Snow pick about 10 projects to be presented for five minutes at each Feast. Everyone in attendance votes for a favorite project; the winner receives about $1,000.

Ledet said she and Meshel modeled Feast after Sunday Soup in Portland, Ore.

“We took the ideas of generating money from the community and bringing them together to consciously make decisions on how to funnel funds to these ideas,” she said.

Artists submitted more than 60 applications for Feast VII and Snow and Ledet tried to choose a wide variety of project types. They chose a mix focusing on art, music, film making, theater, health, poetry and community engagement.

“It is things like this that bring attention to the fact there are so many great projects going on around Boise,” said Amber Pollard, a member of the Boise band Sun Blood Stories, which pitched a collaborative filmmaking project at Feast VII.

Only one winner is chosen at each Feast event, but Ledet said she is looking for sponsors and volunteers to increase the prize money and create consolation prizes.

“The work I’m doing isn’t conventional art,” said Don Winiecki, an engineer professor at Boise State University who submitted a project for computer-engineered art. “If it’s not landscape paintings or cowboy art, no one wants anything to do with it outside of this little community here. This helps bring attention to (different types of art).”

It’s hard to secure funding for art. Some Boise artists try to raise money through Kickstarter campaigns and private events, but often have trouble getting the word out. Others have pursued grants through organizations such as the Idaho Commission of the Arts and Idaho Humanities Council, but those are long processes, and individual artists often feel at a disadvantage to public institutions and private businesses that can devote more resources to grant-writing.

“I’m not one for writing grants,” Said Ben Kirby, front-man of Sun Blood Stories. “This is easy, fun, and if you win you get the money right away.”

Past projects funded through Feast include the Boise Bicycle Project’s collaboration with filmmaker Zach Voss to create a movie encouraging a car free Boise, a photography project by Shaun Shannon and a postcard program run by Erin Mallea.

Projects that aren’t chosen still benefit from the exposure, said Ron Torres, a filmmaker who pitched an idea for a documentary series at Feast VI. Ledet and Snow work with each presenter before the event to help craft a pitch the audience will respond to. Ledet estimated about 90 percent of the projects pitched have been completed.

The Patrons of Feast VII voted between 10 art and community projects and decided to fund Patrick Wangoi's dream to build an art center for refugees. Photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell.

The patrons of Feast VII voted after presentations on 10 art and community projects. They decided to fund Patrick Wangoi’s dream to build an art center for refugees. Photo courtesy of Melanie Folwell.

“There isn’t a single artist that isn’t impacted,” Torres said. “I’ve seen other grant foundations come up to artists after the event as well as angel investors and sometimes artists just get together and do the project themselves.”

Torres was approached by the company Drake Cooper three months after his presentation and asked to participate in the web series Buck the Quo, which closely matched the project he wanted to do.

“I love that so much about what we created,” Ledet said. “We had no idea it would be that magical every time the community came together.”

Six people approached Wangoi after the event to ask how they could help. He plans to put them to work for his project, The Idaho Bridge of Inclusivity Art Center.

What the project needs

The Idaho Bridge of Inclusivity Art Center is a long way from being completed, but Boise may begin seeing artistic events carried out as early as August.

Wangoi eventually wants to find a building to purchase in Boise, because most of the artists he wants to feature live in Boise and rely on public transportation. Feast was Patrick’s first source of funding for the project, and $1,300 won’t go far towards a building, but he hopes to hold events to raise money and awareness, and to raise money on his Heart of Compassion Facebook page.

“When you come here as a refugee there are several cultural barriers,” Wangoi said. “There is a lack of social connection and a lack of community. It can produce a great sense of being unseen … I want to make sure they’re seen.”

About Benton Alexander Smith

Benton Alexander Smith is a reporter for the Idaho Business Review, covering the Idaho Legislature, new business, technology and financial services.

One comment

  1. Fantastic outcome for Patrick! The Feast Boise event taps into the promise of Boise!