BF CREATION NATION

CHANDRI & GARY BARAT ON LIFE & THEIR FAMILY’S DEDICATION TO PEACE THROUGH THE ARTS

 Chandri and Gary Barat in the BF Creation Nation Headquarters at One Gateway Center surrounded by Animodules™ and local youth artworks | Photo Credit: Anthony Alvarez

Chandri and Gary Barat in the BF Creation Nation Headquarters at One Gateway Center surrounded by Animodules™ and local youth artworks | Photo Credit: Anthony Alvarez

TELL US A BIT ABOUT THE INSPIRATION AND ORIGINS OF THE ANIMODULESTM.
Our inspiration for the Animodules was our encounter with a sculpture entitled Mama’s Wings, created by local artist and Newark Public School art teacher, Terry Brewin. The sculpture was of a phoenix and dedicated to a mother who had died of AIDS. The sculpture spoke tenderly to us, as we were also dealing with HIV/AIDS, Gary being a long time survivor. The sculpture which was 18” high, was composed by slotting together two flat planes to create a third dimension. We were amazed at the beauty and simplicity of the piece, and contacted the artist. From that moment Terry Brewin joined the team. At the time we were holding after school arts education programs for children from the Newark Housing Projects. These children became our first student artists. We found a local carboard manufacturer to donate 8’ x 4’ sheets of cardboard, and we began creating huge sculptures based on Terry’s model. These first hand-crafted giant artworks proudly marched with the children and youth that created them in the first Creation Nation Newark Arts Parade in 2008. From humble beginnings in cardboard and glue, a Newark tradition was born.

THE BF CREATION NATION HAS HAD A LONG AND IMPORTANT LEGACY IN NEWARK. WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BENCHMARK HIGHLIGHTS FROM YOUR NOW 21 YEAR OLD PROGRAMS?
We began our venture into arts education with a French language, culture, and art immersion program in the South of France. For us, this would be a second career, hastened by Gary’s life-threatening bout with HIV in the early 1990’s. At that time HIV/AIDS was a death sentence. We had founded a natural foods company, Legume, Inc., which we took public in the 1980’s. After Gary’s diagnosis, not knowing how long we would have together, and wanting our two young daughters to experience the opening of mind and heart that Chandri experienced studying in Paris, we decided to change direction, leave the food business, and venture off to France. We exchanged our house for an apartment in the South of France for the summer and Chandri began to develop a month-long summer immersion program in Provence for high school students. Gary was able to re-immerse himself in fine art photography to fulfill a life-long dream of being an artist. As Chandri is a scholarship and fellowship kid whose focus has always been “leveling the playing field for underserved youth,” we decided to form a 501 (C) 3 not for profit corporation in order to be able to raise funds for scholarship students, and create a more inclusive and diverse student body.

Fast forward 20 years: the program to date has some 400 graduates. Of our 60 summer scholarship students, 100% have gone on to college; an amazing track record in Newark where fewer than 18% of the city’s residents have any post secondary education. In 2015, we named our summer scholarship program after Newark born artist and friend, Willie Cole. We came to Newark in 2005 and shortly thereafter had the great good fortune to be gifted a huge 13,000 sq. ft. space for over 8 years in the heart of the downtown, by a Newark realtor who had seen our French program brochure. It was from here that we would begin our community based arts education programming. We began to understand that if we can transform young lives in a month in Provence, imagine what we can accomplish in Newark with the remaining 11 months of the year. It is from this gifted space in downtown Newark that we first created the Animodule form, the PEACE mural, and the Creation Nation Art & Peace Parade, which recently celebrated its 12th year, involving thousands of Newark children and youth. At the end of our 8 year residency on Broad Street in Newark, we were again blessed with our current gallery and office space at One Gallery, One Gateway, granted by Onyx Realty, where our 100 ft. of windows display the work of hundreds of Newark children and youth and their Animodule creations.

THE ANIMODULE PROGRAM IS A COMMUNITY ORIENTED ENDEAVOR. DO YOU CONSIDER THE PLACEMENT OF THE FINISHED PIECES TO BE A TYPE OF COMMUNITY PLACE-MAKING? WHY OR WHY NOT?
Yes, yes, and yes, we consider the placement of finished Animodules as community place-making.  Many of the Animodules stand permanently in the schools and community organizations that created them, representing that community’s vision and culture.  There are two permanent Sea-Lion Animdoules on display at Turtleback Zoo, several of our “Community Place Makers” at the Newark Airport, and a giant dragon stands guard at the Whittemore Nature Preserve in Hunterdon County.  Our five Newark Celebration 350 Animodules, marking the city’s 350th Anniversary, stood proudly at the PSEG Plaza for months, becoming selfie magnets and community gathering spots.  From there these Newark History Animodules have been place makers at the Newark Library, and most recently were chosen to represent the arts community at the Amazon sponsored international VOICE conference at NJIT.  They are currently scheduled as place makers on Park Place by NJPAC, to publicize and celebrate the Newark Arts Festival. A new Animodule is being created by Rutgers Newark students for the HLLC (Honors Living Learning Community), where it will be placed in the courtyard once the facility is completed.  Our long-term plans include an interactive “Animodule Trail” throughout the city, a child-friendly attraction for Newark that both educates and entertains.

THE BF CREATION NATION HOSTS A FABULOUS PARADE EVERY YEAR! CAN YOU SHARE A BIT ABOUT THE HISTORY OF THIS EVENT AND WHY IT IS IMPORTANT NOT ONLY TO THE ARTS COMMUNITY, BUT TO THE WIDER NEWARK AUDIENCE?
Shortly after our first seeing Terry Brewin’s interlocking sculpture, Mama’s Wings, the Newark Arts Council held a meeting asking members of the arts community for ideas to publicize the city’s Open Doors Arts Festival. Inspired by our daughter, Athena’s, resoundingly successful, “This Town Needs a Parade”, an art parade held at Rutgers New Brunswick to bring the university’s Mason Gross School of the Arts into its surrounding community, we immediately replied, “Let’s have an Arts parade!”

WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OF THE CHALLENGES OR HURDLES THAT YOU’VE HAD TO OVERCOME AS YOU’VE EXPANDED YOUR PROGRAMS OVER THE PAST TWENTY PLUS YEARS?
I think if you ask any not for profit about challenges and hurdles, the universal response would be funding.  We have been blessed with space to do our programs and exhibit our work, and a tireless group of interns and volunteers who have helped bring us to where we are.  Raising money is always a challenge and in this regard we continue to thank our sponsors including foundations, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, corporations, and individuals.  We came to Newark in 2005 literally not knowing anyone. This was definitely a challenge. As “compulsive collaborators” we have been able to construct a network of partners over the past 13 years that share our commitment to arts education and leveling the playing field for underserved youth.  These collaborators include the Newark Public Schools and their newly elected superintendent, Roger Leon; Newark Arts; the HUBB; the Center for Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation at Rutgers Newark; the International Institute for Peace; the Newark School of the Arts; the Office of the Mayor; the Greater Newark Convention & Visitors Bureau, and NJPAC to name a few.  These collaborations have been indispensable in helping us expand our programs and projects on limited dollars, enabling us to serve a far larger community than we could possibly reach working alone.

WHAT CAN WE EXPECT TO SEE IN THE NEXT FIVE YEARS FROM BF CREATION NATION? AS THE NEWARK LANDSCAPE CHANGES, HOW DO YOU THINK THE FOUNDATION SHIFT (IF AT ALL)?
Our newest project includes expanding our Animodule programs internationally, working with NGO Connect, and the International Institute for Peace at Rutgers, connecting us with NGO’s around the world.  Our first project beginning this semester will be linking Uplift Academy in Newark to a school in Azure Nigeria, and collaboratively creating Animodules on both sides. The program includes learning about the function of NGOs (non governmental organizations), discussing common challenges and potential solutions, and creating a network of Animodules that can speak to one and other and connect young people around the world as International Peace Ambassadors.  Our vision includes creating a constellation of Animodule sculptures with its epi-center in Newark, representing diverse communities around the world, and bringing the discussion of peace and non-violent conflict resolution to the next generation who will inherit our fragile and beautiful planet.

Future plans also include the development of “Brand Animodule™”, a product line including mini-Animodules, coloring books, comic books, animations, digital applications, etc. which will help make Creation Nation sustainable over the long term.  As non-violent superheroes armed with the powers of the arts rather than weapons of war, the Animodules become mentors and magic helpers for young people dealing with 21st century challenges

Our newest project includes expanding our Animodule programs internationally, working with NGO Connect, and the International Institute for Peace at Rutgers, connecting us with NGO’s around the world.  Our first project beginning this semester will be linking Uplift Academy in Newark to a school in Azure Nigeria, and collaboratively creating Animodules on both sides. The program includes learning about the function of NGOs (non governmental organizations), discussing common challenges and potential solutions, and creating a network of Animodules that can speak to one and other and connect young people around the world as International Peace Ambassadors.  Our vision includes creating a constellation of Animodule sculptures with its epi-center in Newark, representing diverse communities around the world, and bringing the discussion of peace and non-violent conflict resolution to the next generation who will inherit our fragile and beautiful planet.

Future plans also include the development of “Brand Animodule™”, a product line including mini-Animodules, coloring books, comic books, animations, digital applications, etc. which will help make Creation Nation sustainable over the long term.  As non-violent superheroes armed with the powers of the arts rather than weapons of war, the Animodules become mentors and magic helpers for young people dealing with 21st century challenges.


LOCATION: 43 RAYMOND PLAZA W., NEWARK, NJ 07102
WEBSITE: www.baratfoundation.org