Telling a refugee grandmother’s story of persecution by Russian soldiers. Auctioning images of a courageous leader and a community that welcomed strangers. Sharing views of the world through young people’s eyes.
A growing number of Cape Cod and Islands artists and cultural organizations have quickly — and independently — rallied to find unusual ways their talents can make a difference to help Ukrainian people suffering because of Russia’s ongoing invasion.
Art auctions and sales, a theater show, a concert, a movie screening, exhibits, gatherings and donation pleas are among the fundraising ideas that have sprung up in recent days with the single goal of people just doing whatever they can to make a difference in the humanitarian crisis brought on by the war.
Mobilization has been quick as locals read and watched video footage about people, including children, being hurt and killed, and millions of refugees pouring over borders. Artists and cultural officials say they have recognized that the scars of war are just beginning, and are appalled, angry and anguished by what is happening so many miles away.
“I think we were all — on the Cape or across the country and everywhere — sitting around going ‘What can I do? This is awful,’” said Janine Perry, producing artistic director at Cape Rep Theatre in Brewster. “What we can do is try our best to donate some money … and we can be together and do something positive. … It’s an acknowledgment that you’re all feeling the same way and that there is something you can do, however small and however remote we are.”
Buoyed to learn of other area artists also taking steps to aid humanitarian causes, Provincetown artist Jo Hay, who raised $2,300 through a two-day virtual #ArtForUkraine auction last week of her portrait of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said the varied creative endeavors do all count as links between something.
When she tried to deflect praise for her efforts, an admirer told her, “’Think of it as that you’re inspiring people to make stuff happen,’” Hay said. “And I was able to accept that in this moment as my role.”
Eugene Zhukau, who by midweek had reached more than $1,000 in bids through his own Instagram auction of three cyanotype images of 1908 Provincetown, explained it simply this way: “Art is the language of love.”
That message has taken and will take many different forms around the region — and those already involved hope that what they’re doing will inspire even more. Here are some ways local artists are asking other people to help.
Cape Cod Museum of Art focuses on the children
Since Monday, officials at the Cape Cod Museum of Art have lit up its Dennis facade for the foreseeable future in the blue and yellow of the Ukrainian flag. They are collecting donations to the Save The Children’s Ukraine Crisis Relief Fund (www.savethechildren.org) — including through 100% of admission fees this weekend as part of the opening of its 19th annual Youth Art Exhibition “Through Young Eyes.”
“As we celebrate the creative accomplishments of our Cape Cod youth, we must also be aware of the children of the Ukraine who are facing so much hardship and an uncertain future,” said Benton Jones, the museum’s director of art.
The exhibit, on display through May 8, features sculpture, painting, collage, ceramics and more artwork by 90 Cape students in grades K-12, chosen by art teachers from 15 schools across the region, plus 12 teachers. Mediums also include printmaking, drawing, fabric and multi-media art.
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‘Craftsman’ uses images of new home to help his birthplace
Zhukau, who was born in Belarus near the Ukrainian border, was due to wrap up his social-media auction this weekend of art on paper and glass that had been inspired by Provincetown, his beloved adopted home for the past eight years.
He first learned the Belarusian and Russian languages, but said in written comments, “I taught myself the Ukrainian language because I wanted to understand their music, read their poems, sing their songs. You cannot learn any language without love for the people who speak it. And, I sincerely love Ukrainians and their culture.”
The idea for his auction contribution to the #ArtForUkraine movement started on a beach walk with a friend the day after the Feb. 24 Russian invasion, he said, and he thought of the erosion of the coast as similar to the losses being suffered in Ukraine.
At first discouraged, he said, he began to see how much of the Cape remains despite the changes. He thought perhaps he and the art he had created from a postcard aerial image of a pre-Pilgrim Monument 1908 Provincetown skyline could help a war-torn Ukraine.
“‘Town and Harbor’ uses one time and place to think about another — the cyan might call to mind the blue of Ukrainian skies, or the Ukrainian flag, or the blueprints of buildings, and how cities might change, but the people and their stories endure,” he said on his auction post. In his Instagram images, Zhukau symbolically wore “Vyshyvanka,” which he said is “a casual name for the embroidered shirt in Ukrainian and Belarusian national costumes, which unite our cultures.”
“I’m millions of miles away from where Russian bombs are destroying unique ancient frescoes in Ukrainian churches, killing musicians, artists and craftsmen like myself. Russian culture has almost swallowed Belarusian culture and is now trying to eat Ukrainian culture as well,” he wrote. “I hope the money which our community will raise with the auction will help the Ukrainians rise from the ruins and restore their culture. And people around the world would be able to appreciate their beautiful art.”
Actress tells her grandmother’s story
As actress Vicki Summers watched images from Ukraine with horror, she was reminded of what her Jewish grandmother had endured in that region a century ago when, as a child, she was shot in the leg fleeing a pogrom by Russian soldiers. So Summers decided to revisit that refugee story in a way that could raise money to help the people suffering in Ukraine now.
After hearing and recording tales of her Jewish grandmother’s immigrant life, Summers in 2017 wrote and performed a one-woman play about her, “Bella, An Immigrant’s Tale,” at Cape Rep. Summers later took the play, which begins with that pogrom, elsewhere in the country, including the Los Angeles Women’s Theatre Festival shortly before the pandemic began.
After last month’s Russian invasion, Summers realized that the early-20th-century story needed to be retold — and that while she had become very familiar with that history, many people might not know it and recognize how the tragedy is repeating.
“Sometimes we live … in our own little bubbles and we are not aware of what’s going on in places,” she said. “It’s such a strange thing to think that 100 years later, it’s in many ways happening again — the same type of story, except in that case it was, it was the Jews that were targeted. Now it’s an entire nation, but a similar being chased away, (being) forced to leave their homes and many of them dying and just having to start all over again.”
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Summers will perform “Bella,” at 2 p.m. March 20 at Cape Rep (3299 Route 6A, Brewster) with admission by donation as a benefit for Ukrainian refugees through UNICEF. She hopes to include a slideshow she created of the real people behind the story, and lead a talkback conversation that she said she knows may involve how people are feeling about what’s happening in Ukraine today.
The situation “is heartbreaking and I felt like, ‘Oh my God, I have to do something,’” said Summers, who had already planned to record her play at Cape Rep this month when she realized she could turn that into a benefit. “All of us feel so helpless when you see these people suffering, so what can we do? And this feels like something — to bring awareness and raise money.”
Summers’ longtime goal with the play was to ensure her grandmother’s story lives on and to ensure stories like hers and those from the Holocaust are not forgotten — or repeated. With the Ukraine crisis, Summers’ mission with “Bella” grew.
It’s important, too, “for us to recognize that this story is universal. It’s not just the story of Ukraine, it’s a story of all of us, and it could happen anywhere,” she said. “We need to do what we can (to help) as if it’s our own family member. Because it could be.”
Jo Hay inspired by Zelenskyy’s courage
Hay, who is best known for her “Persisters” collection of portraits of women who have made a difference and made history, was recently chosen as Artist of the Year by the Arts Foundation of Cape Cod. She said she was working March 4 on her painting for that organization’s upcoming auction when she felt she had to stop.
“I felt a real need to deal with what was in front of me in terms of Ukraine. And just watching Zelenskyy, just witnessing his bravery, there was no doubt in my mind that I would make a painting,” she said. The portrait came together quickly in a way she said an artist awaits for an entire career. “I knew then that it had to just go into something else and hopefully could benefit him and his people. I wanted to do something. I can’t stand back and not help somehow.”
By the next day, with help from wife and art-gallery owner Carolyn Kramer, the Instagram auction was live, bids and support were coming in.
“It was a perfect weekend to see that it did turn into something and to watch people be so enthusiastic about it and to be so generous,” she said. “It was very heartening … The fact that we could raise $2,300 was miraculous to me.”
Hay and Kramer Thursday launched an additional fundraiser for Save the Children, offering 11-inch-by-14-inch prints of the Zelenskyy portrait for $100, with all proceeds donated to Save the Children (contact [email protected]).
“It’s been an overwhelming, earth-shattering experience for the two of us to see what is happening in Ukraine,” Kramer explained. “As a Jew who lost family members in the Holocaust, I feel that it is my responsibility to do whatever I can to see that we don’t have to build another Holocaust museum years from now or create another ‘Never Forget’ or to look back and have to say ‘Did we do enough?’ If Jo’s art can help just one of those children survive this war — then we will both know we tried with all our heart and soul to make a difference in a child’s life.”
Wellfleet Preservation Hall makes music and art for Ukraine
Multiple people connected to Wellfleet Preservation Hall have “several irons in the fire,” as Executive Director Janet Lesniak put it, to raise money to help the people of Ukraine.
Proceeds from singer-songwriter Jordan Renzi’s March 26 concert there will benefit Vostok SOS, a Ukrainian-based non-governmental organization that Lesniak said provides resources and relief to Ukrainian refugees.
Susie Nielsen, founder and artist of Farm Projects gallery (355 Main St., Wellfleet) was in Provincetown last week working with artists Vicky Tomayko, Abe Storer and Agata Storer to create a monoprint for Ukraine. It will be part of a fundraiser happening from noon to 3 p.m. March 26 at the gallery.
There will also be an exhibition of work then that artists from around the area are donating, with 100% of sales going to organizations helping Ukrainian refugees. Photographer Agata Storer, who is from Poland, will take photos that day and have people write down their thoughts on the crisis, and that will all then be turned into another art project, Nielsen said.
On March 26, there will also be music, activities and a workshop for children to make Ukrainian flower headdresses in what Nielsen described as “a coming together as a community.”
“We hope to have an afternoon of community, empathy and to raise money to help the people of Ukraine,” Lesniak said.
Film center shows a family’s story
Ukrainian director Iryna Tsilyk’s 2020 documentary “The Earth is Blue as an Orange” tells the story of single mother and her four children under siege in Ukraine, where pro-Russian groups started conflicts in 2014. Richard Paradise, founder and executive director at the Martha’s Vineyard Film Center in Vineyard Haven (www.mvfilmsociety.org), on Saturday night screened the film as a fundraiser for humanitarian aid.
Introducing the film: Vlad Medvedovsky, founder and CEO of Proxet software development company (operating in Ukraine) via Skype is to talk about the war and its impact on the citizens. For those unable to attend, Paradise offered links to World Central Kitchen, UNICEF and Ukraine Red Cross as options for making a donation anyway.
“War should never be a solution to geopolitical conflicts. Especially when that war is unprovoked by one side and causes a massive humanitarian crisis for families and civilians,” he said in an email blast to patrons. “We stand with Ukraine and its sovereignty.”
Contact Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll at [email protected] Follow on Twitter: @KathiSDCCT.