STATEMENT ARTS- "The World Art Project"

The World Art Project blog is a forum dedicated to helping Katrina Victims share the experience and journey of a group of Professional Actors, Singers and Performers who traveled to the Gulf Coast to help uplift the spirits of those surviors. Our hope is to provide insight, knowledge and offer way for readers to get involved and help in forms of Donations, support or expression of opinions and feelings.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Meet the Staff and Performers


LIZA POLITI (Co-Founder/Creative Director - Statement Arts)
Liza Politi graduated from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, winning the Lee Strasberg Award for acting in her final year. She has spent the last 15 years working as an actress and model in New York City, appearing in countless television commercials and magazines. Liza has performed Off Broadway, in independent films and has been a spokesperson for Sensodyne, Volvo, Gerber’s, Olive Garden, and Allegra advertising campaigns, appearing in Martha Stewart Living, O! the Oprah Magazine, Better Homes & Gardens, and Good Housekeeping.
In 2000, Liza was presented with the Joseph P. Reilly Award from the Screen Actors Guild in recognition for her efforts in resolving a national strike. After September 11th, 2001, Liza spent nine months at Ground Zero working with the American Red Cross and The Salvation Army. In 2003, the FDNY honored her for a community outreach program that she co-founded for them in 2001. Liza has also worked as an event coordinator for The Allison Getz Foundation; an AIDS awareness program, September Space; a 9-11 Community Center and for Kids with Cameras; a non-profit organization based on the 2004 Academy Award-winning documentary, Born into Brothels, whose mission is to empower marginalized children through art. She currently works as a coordinator for National Geographic photographers, organizing International photography workshops throughout Europe.

SARAH HAMILTON (Executive Director/Treasurer- Statement Arts)
Sarah Hamilton graduated from the prestigious New York University, Tisch School of the Arts where she worked with members of the Royal Shakespeare Company. She has appeared on New York and London stages as Cressida in Troillus and Cressida, Isabelle in Measure for Measure, and Katrina in Chapter 8 a play about prejudice written and produced by the performers themselves. She has performed in several film and television roles and as lent her voice to numerous national television and radio commercial campaigns such as the Chapsitck, Covergirl make-up, V-8 Splash, and Sony Televisions. She also was involved in the hugely successful CD-Rom game, The Longest Journey, where she played the character of April Ryan.
Sarah’s philanthropic involvement started because of two major life changing episodes, a 2002 diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis and a 2004 diagnosis of Cancer. Both of which remain symptom and cancer free after medication, surgery, and a series of treatments. However, because of this she found a passion for possibility and a new empowered belief that a problem is as only as big as we make it. She is harnessing these energies into Project: Urban Arts to head up a program for inner city kids to instill in them a belief that anything is possible no matter how dire the circumstances.

CORDELIA D. ROOSEVELT (Chairman of the Board- Statement Arts)
Cordelia was born and raised in New York City. In her senior year at Harvard University she won the John Brookings Imrie Memorial Award. Bestowed annually, this honor is conferred by a review committee comprised of both faculty and students. Prior to co-founding Urban Arts, Cordelia served as a board member and director of the children's art program for A Window Between Worlds, an LA-based arts organization.
In response to September 11th, 2001, Cordelia co-founded and co-managed a donation-driven warehouse during the nine-month Rescue and Recovery mission at the World Trade Center. For her work, The President’s Council on Service and Civic Participation, in conjunction with The White House, honored her with the President’s Volunteer Service Award. Cordelia also received three individual FDNY commendations in addition to an American flag that had flown over the site.
In October 2005, in association with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Cordelia is sponsoring a group of anthropologists, aid workers, and journalists traveling to the Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya. In Africa, she will oversee "Project Kakuma," the return of handwritten biographies compiled nearly 20 years ago by Sweden Save the Children. The restoration of these papers to their rightful owners will help Sudanese refugees obtain passports and other legal documents when they return next year to Sudan.
Cordelia currently volunteers in the New York University Hospital emergency department. She is a member of the Harvard Club and the National Arts Club, as well as a trustee of the Theodore Roosevelt Association.

GEORGIA DeFALCO (Co-Founder/Executive Producer – Statement Arts)
Georgia DeFalco graduated from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in 2000 with a BA in music education, minoring in vocal performance. After graduation, she moved to Chicago and sang at Davenport's Cabaret while teaching musical Hinsdale Middle School. In 2001, Georgia moved to New York City. Currently, she works at The High School of Environmental Studies, building the music program to include musical theater, a madrigals troupe, and several choirs. Her groups tour and compete around the United States.

ARI MALDONADO ESPAY (Creative Consultant - Statement Arts)
After studying law and economics at the Universidad Diego Portales, Ari Maldonado Espay left the business world and enrolled in Escuela de Foto Arte Chile to follow his passion— photography. He graduated in 2001 with a professional’s degree. In 2003, Ari won the prestigious Fondart, a National Arts project sponsored by the Chilean government. He was a finalist in an international National Geographic photography contest the following year. Ari currently lives in Santiago, Chile, shooting freelance-publicity photography for a variety of companies, including Gillette, San Pedro Vineyard, Las Americas University, and Salo. Also, he has shot for many magazines, including Caras, Que Pasa, and In-Lan Chile, and his images will be seen in the coffee-table book, The Colors of San Miguel, to be published in 2006. Ari has had numerous gallery exhibitions in Santiago, Chile and at the prestigious SOHO House in New York City.


SARA KRIEGER (Musical Director): Sara Krieger has worked in virtually every aspect of "The Business"- From musical theatre and Off-Broadway to clubs, cabarets and recordings. She was been nominated in New York by the Concert and Cabaret Arts as ‘Best Female Vocalist’ and as ‘Entertainer of the Year’, as well as having been the featured subject of the P.M. Magazine Television news program “In Search of the Best Singers in New York”.
For four years she was a member of the popular vocal jazz ensemble “New York Voices” with which she recorded several very successful top ten albums, as well as touring extensively around the United States, Europe and Japan. She has worked with such luminaries as Dave Grusin, Patty Austin, Branford Marsales, Take 6 and David Byrne.
For the past ten years, Sara has turned her vocal talents to doing voiceover commercials and promos. She has been the account voice for American Express, Estee Lauder, Thermasilk, HGTV and countless others. She is currently the promo voice for Bloomberg radio.

KATE KONIGISOR: Kate is more than delighted to be a part of this marvelous group. Most recently she played Eleanor in THE LION IN WINTER and Kate in BROADWAY BOUND at the Surflight Theatre. Favorite credits include Emilia in OTHELLO (opposite Austin Pendleton) & Beatrice in MUCH ADO ABOUT NOTHING (West End Theatre Co., NYC); M'Lynn in STEEL MAGNOLIAS (Fireside Theatre, WI); the title role in SHIRLEY VALENTINE (Gretna Theatre); Bella in LOST IN YONKERS; Germaine in PICASSO AT THE LAPINE AGILE (TheatreVirginia); two seasons with the NYC's The Century Theatre Summer Reading Festival playing opposite both Kier Dullea & Eli Wallach; Off-Broadway, MINOR DEMONS (Blake Edwards, producer), Kate in both THE TAMING OF THE SHREW (Shakespeare in Delaware Park, Buffalo) and KISS ME KATE (Center Stage). Kate is also a founding member and Associate Producer of Algonquin Productions in NYC.

SUE BERCH: Sue Berch has been acting since she was a child and has been fortunate enough to perform on 3 continents. Favorite roles include Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker, Rachel in Reckless (London) and Grumio in The Taming of a Shrew. In NYC, she does theater, film, television and commercial work as well as role-play work for law schools, medical schools and the NYPD. On stage, Sue has appeared on stilts, with snakes, in short sword and shield fights and loves the challenge of it all. She's even been a Who from Whoville in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. Sue is a proud member of AEA, SAG and BAE.

DOUG LORY: Doug Lory was last seen playing Big Roy on HBO’s award winning show The Wire and has also appeared on ABC’s One Life To Live. His screen credits include roles in Gods and Generals & Dakota Sunrise. He has taken the stage in numerous productions both in NY and across the country including Counsellor At Law Off Broadway and a national tour of Aladdin. He has served as a Board member of the Screen Actor’s Guild, and is also a member of AFTRA and AEA. Doug’s writing career currently has him working on two non-fiction projects including a memoir of his recent journey to Florence, Italy.

KRISTA RIVER: Winner of the 2004 Concert Artists Guild International Competition, mezzo-soprano Krista River has appeared as a soloist with the Boston Symphony, the Santa Fe Symphony, Handel & Haydn Society, the Florida Orchestra, Emmanuel Music, and the Pittsburgh Bach and Baroque Ensemble. Her opera roles include Rosina in Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia. Zerlina in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and Nancy in Britten’s Albert Herring, among others. Ms. River’s 2004-05 season included her New York Recital debut at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, about which the New York Times praised her "shimmering voice…with the virtuosity of a violinist and the expressivity of an actress.” Upcoming engagements include performances with the Harrisburg Symphony and the Santa Fe Symphony, and a recital appearance at Columbia University's Italian Academy in New York. Ms. River began her musical career as a cellist, earning her music degree at St. Olaf College. She resides in Boston and is a regular soloist with Emmanuel Music’s renowned Bach Cantata Series led by music director Craig Smith.

JANE GENNARO: Multi-media artist, Jane Gennaro revels in an eclectic career devoted to art, performance and writing. Her plays THE BOOB STORY and REALITY RANCH were first produced by THE AMERICAN PLACE THEATER. Extensive voice-over credits include popular CD roms (MAX PAYNE, GRAND THEFT AUTO with Dennis Hopper), internet plays (SEEING EAR THEATER with Campbell Scott), and literally thousands of commercials. Dubious historical achievements include seven years as a stand up comic plus employment as the sole female comedy-writer slash character actor on IMUS in the MORNING. Recently, Jane has been a commentator on NPR's "ALL THINGS CONSIDERED" , performed her funny story SHAKING THE GOOSE EGG and exhibited her artwork (constructions of bone, eggs and insects) at the Time & Space Ltd. Gallery in Hudson, NY. Ms. Gennaro's current Art Installation, "CLOTHESPIN DOLLS" will be on view at the Hudson River Theater through January.

RON McCLARY: Ron McClary has delighted New York audiences for over ten years. Most recently, he originated the role of Gerritt in The Lightning Field (Outstanding Play, 2005 FringeNYC) at the Flea Theatre. Other New York credits include: Summer ’69 Off-Broadway, Gilbert Bruckholdt in Dear Vienna and Harry Van in Idiot’s Delight with Vital Theatre, Passion and The Ghost of Christmas Present in A Christmas Carol with Dicapo Opera, Sir Toby in What You Will (or 12th Night) at the Connelly, Simenov-Pischik in The Cherry Orchard at the Ohio, Kulygin in Three Sisters with Greenwich Street Theatre. Regional credits include: Stephano in The Tempest, Dogberry in Much Ado with Actor’s Shakespeare Company of New Jersey (founding member). Television credits include: Law & Order, Ed, Law & Order: SVU. Film credits include: Neurotica, Crazy Little Thing, The Weatherman (opposite Nicholas Cage) and upcoming The Producers and The Pleasure of Your Company.

DERRICK McQUEEN: Derrick McQueen, due to a Dodge Foundation Grant, was the Playwright in Residence at South Jersey Regional Theatre, where his play, I Have Been Said to Possess was produced. As a performer, he has appeared as Narrator in Joseph and His Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus in Jesus Christ Superstar- has worked for New York Theatre Workshop, Mabou Mines, and is featured at each Cape May Jazz Festival. His characterizations he has created based on historical African Americans, include the journalist Alfred P. Smith, Congressman George White, and abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Critically acclaimed, he performs Paul Robeson Through His Words and Music, interweaving two dozen songs Robeson sang, with a narrative of his life as performer and humanitarian. In July, 2006, this production will be part of the Equity Company, East Lynne, during their mainstage performing season. Lord, I Surrender is his best CD made to date.

RITA SELBY: Rita Selby sings and writes songs to bring comfort into a world that has too little of it. To bring together people from all walks of life through the healing balm of shared musical experience. Her own songs – as well as her interpretations of classics from The Great American Songbook – explore the landscape of human emotion blending jazz-infused harmonies with lyrics that are at times metaphorical, always deeply personal.
After leading her band at New York's top jazz venues, ‘On Earth' (Snee Music) is the landmark all-original release of Rita's luminous songs following her critically-lauded debut recording ‘Serenade to Bluish Grey', the title track of which put her on the map as a songwriter of uncommon depth. Her crystal tone and impeccable rhythm result from her roots as a classical pianist, bewitched by jazz while earning her Bachelor of Music in Classical Piano performance at the renowned William Paterson University. 'On Earth' features the recorded work of bass legend Rufus Reid, and jazz stars Peter Bernstein, Freddie Bryant, Doug Weiss, Andy Eulau, Peter Brainin, Matt King, Anton Denner and Pete MacDonald.
Rita's December 6 CD release party at the historic Greenwich Village jazz club Sweet Rhythm (formerly Sweet Basil) was Standing Room Only. Her music is available through all Tower Records retail outlets.

VICKI WATSON: Vicki Watson divides her time between practicing law in NYC, running The Merion Inn, her turn-of-the-century restaurant in Cape May, NJ, and pursuing her passion of a cappella singing and arranging. When not frantically switching hats, she enjoys chilling out with her partner, jazz pianist George Mesterhazy. She is looking forward to traveling with Statement Arts and hopes to help raise spirits down South and awareness up North.

SANDRA M. BLOOM: Sandra M. Bloom just completed the popular HBO program “Autopsy 11 – The Andros Case” [in which she portrayed the murderer], “The Sopranos, ” and “Law and Order.” Between acting and singing jobs, she also works as a theatrical Stage Manager, a Writer and a Director. She works many of the theatres, films and television in and around the NY area and the nearby states of MA, CT, NJ & PA. This summer she added Denver CO to that list. Her latest projects have been several workshop productions, “Uncle Jed’s Barbershop,” which played both in Denver and NYC, and “Hear the Flowers Singing.” which originated in Atlanta and she joined in one of it's later incarnations in NY. A professional actress since shortly after college, she has performed roles that range from tragedy to farce. She was last seen as Marion in “The Decision,” a new play, and is frequently recognized when “Tootsie” plays again on television. She was the Production Supervisor of an Emerging Playwrights Festival, which benefited the World Trade Center/ Firemen’s Relief Funds. For the several years since 9/11 she has performed at the Fire Houses Xmas parties throughout NYC, which is how she became involved with the tour.

LIZ MAXWELL: Liz Maxwell is currently a third year theatre student at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, LA. She thrives on musical theatre and hopes to pursue a career that includes acting, singing, dancing, directing, and improv, while simulataneously making the world laugh, cry, and think. Favorite roles so far, from both NSU and various theatres around New Orleans, include Sister Mary Amnesia in Nunsense, Third Actress in The Dining Room, Older Female Actress in This is a Play, Ronnette in Little Shop of Horrors, and Hucklebee in The Fantasticks. She feels incredibly honored to have been a part of the Bayou Tour, and looks forward to contributing what she can to Statement Arts in the future. If you're ever in Louisiana, stop by and say hello to her.

MALINDI FICKLE (Director- Documentary Film Project): Malindi is thrilled to be documenting the Statement Arts' WAP Tour. She just finished post-production on her first documentary feature film By the People which is an inspiring story of average Americans struggling to uphold the most basic aspects of democracy during the 2004 Presidential election. Malindi’s been a director, producer and actor in New York City for over thirteen years. Directing credits include “Savior” at the Manhattan Ensemble Theater, produced by Beth O’Neal and “Cover, Stir & Fluff” at St. Famous. Producing credits include “Escape From Happiness” at the Judith Anderson Theater and the world premiere of “A Floating Roof Above Your Head” at the Chelsea Playhouse. As an actress, Malindi has appeared in many independent feature films including a supporting role in Sharon Pollack’s Everything Relative (Sundance Film Festival), leads in both Jacklight (Cannes Critic’s Selection) and St. Andrew’s Girls (TVA Films). Malindi graduated Summa Cum Laude from New York University. She lives in Manhattan with her husband Jason, daughter Dagny and cat Goose.

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STATEMENT ARTS- "World Art Project" is's lead story!
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From The Times Picayune, New Orleans
N.Y. group is music to our ears

Thursday, December 29, 2005
Carol Wolfram
I'm a holiday music fanatic.

I like it all -- from the romping "Rocking Around the Christmas Tree" variety to my ultimate favorite, "O Holy Night." I embarrass everyone in the vicinity by tearing up every time I hear that admittedly schmaltzy song, "The Christmas Shoes." And I will forever get chills when I hear Allen Toussaint sing, "The Day it Snows on Christmas (in New Orleans)," remembering that the "Christmas Gumbo" CD was released last year just before it actually did snow on Christmas in New Orleans.

Look in my car at any time of the year and you'll find a holiday CD or two or three. Look beside/in our home stereo at any time of the year and you'll find another cache of Christmas carols.

Even I can admit that I may have tiptoed into the realm of pre-therapy when, during a recent road trip to spend Thanksgiving with the in-laws, I only brought Christmas CDs in hopes that John would, once he starts talking, break into a holiday tune or two. I didn't think that was too grand a Christmas wish. Mike was sure I'd finally lost my mind.

Smokin' Slidell stage
There's just something about Christmas music I find relaxing and uplifting, which is probably one of the reasons I've always been eager to volunteer at the city's annual Christmas Under the Stars celebration in Olde Towne Slidell.

Every year there's an entertaining show, whether the tunes are performed by a local elementary school or the Navy Band of New Orleans.
This year the stage was smokin', courtesy of STATEMENT ARTS', "World Art Project."
You knew something special was in store when The World Art Project performers' presence became known before they'd even taken a step on stage.

As the St. Paul AME Church Mass Choir sang on stage, the professional troupe from New York City began clapping and dancing along, their energy igniting an even more moving performance by the local choir and propelling into action a crowd that previously had been clapping politely between St. Paul's sets.

They were the very embodiment of Christmas spirit.

Gift of the heart
Three thousand miles away, in New York City, the men and women of Statement Arts comprise a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing visual and performing arts to underserved, low-income individuals. Their goal is to use the power of art to educate and empower.

In Slidell, they were transformed into Christmas elves, spreading cheer first in the Cracker Barrel restaurant where they broke into a few impromptu carols and, like the Pied Piper, were trailed by diners to Griffith Park.
"They just started singing in the restaurant. They told us they were coming here, so here we are," said Barbara Gourdon.

Once on the Griffith Park stage, the sprites presented a 40-minute show that included traditional carols and some holiday favorites performed to distinctly nontraditional choreography.
They called children to the stage -- scratch that, they called everyone to the stage -- to perform at their side.
Before the troupe was through, the members of the audience were singing as heartily as the choir, laughing, and dancing. As the concert ended they converged on the stage to shake hands and meet the performers, unwilling to abandon the merry mood.

Four months earlier, Griffith Park had been underwater, its oaks inundated by Hurricane Katrina's floodwater.

But that night, thanks to The World Art Project and the power of music, Christmas felt like Christmas is supposed to feel.

Mission accomplished
That was the mission of the Tour, explained Liza Politi, creative director of Statement Arts and one of the performers on stage in Slidell, to "bring a little joy to a lot of people who needed it through music and the spirit of Christmas."

Before performing in Slidell's portable stage aka trailer, the group had performed under tents in Bay St. Louis, Biloxi, Waveland, Kiln and Pearlington, Miss. The following day they were scheduled to perform in the French Quarter.

The gift of spirit was the repayment of a debt, Politi explained. After 9/11, groups from throughout the world descended on New York City to volunteer in the disaster zone.
"Their generosity was amazing. In the months that followed, it became obvious to us that the threat that connects us all, however thing it may seem, is very strong," she said.
She remembered, particularly, a group from Louisiana that set up shop just outside the ground zero perimeter and cooked up and gave away pot after pot of jambalaya. "The Mardi Gras beads that they were handing out still hang in my office," Politi said.

Jambalaya, like music, has the power to heal when delivered with heart.

. . . . . . .

Carol Wolfram can be reached at or (985) 645-2857.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

From A New Friend...

Dear Liza,

Your presence in Cafe Du Monde yesterday was truly inspiring. Thank you so much for your wonderful music. You had more of an impact that you probably imagined.

We were meeting with a group from a local church whose community was destroyed in the floods following Hurricane Katrina. We were working with them to help resolve some of their immediate challenges and also to help them rebuild their community and the neighborhood around them. Since they only knew one of us, they were not sure what to think and not sure whether to trust us. When your group appeared, none of us could figure out what was happening. Was it some type of protest or guerilla theater? What were you protesting? Then we heard your remarks and all of us realized your good intentions.

When your singing started, I looked around the table and everyone was
smiling and singing along with you. We were all genuinely touched.

What you did not know is what happened after you left. Somehow,
the music broke down the barriers and the trust grew stronger.
We were also able to solve the most immediate problem they had
and make great progress towards their longer term rebuilding.

Your music was exactly what was needed to begin the process. I
would be delighted to return the favor and do whatever I can to
help your organization.

Thank you so very much for your kindness,

A new friend
New Orleans, LA

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

"Affirmation of Faith"

I believe in people.

I believe that in the darkest times, people can reach out thru the darkness and find another person's hand, and that is hope. And that is faith. And that is light.

I believe that it is possible to smile and sing and laugh and dance even when you've been living in a tent for three and a half months, when FEMA still hasn't given you a trailer, when it rained and thunderstormed the nite before, and your tent collapsed in on you and you had to sleep that nite in the cold, wet mud--I believe.

I believe that human kindness and goodness can persist after seeing nothing but debris for miles and miles and months and months.

I believe in rebuilding; I believe in rebirth. I believe in creation--creating songs to sing on cold, lonely nites, creating love in the most devastated places, creating communities who trust again.

I believe in the little boy at the library, who couldn't tell Santa what he wanted for Christmas because he thought whatever he asked for would only be destroyed, like all his other toys were. And I believe in the little boy who, when invited to pick out a single toy for Christmas, picked out a pink toy, because that was his sister's favorite.

I believe in the man who runs the liquor store, who couldn't bare to cry, but managed to mumble that people coming in to sing for him was the nicest thing any one had done for him in his whole life.

I believe in the little girl who is too shy to sing, and I believe in the boy who loves to dance.

I believe in chance, and I believe in luck. I believe in good fortune and good blessings. I believe in fate. I used to believe, that people believed, in one nation, under God, indivisible with liberty and justice for all. I can't believe that anymore. But I believe in you, and I believe in me, and I believe in our power to surpass our old beliefs and burst into new faith, like the glorious phoenix rising from the ashes of death, towards resurrection and life.

I believe all this because of every single one of you. I believe in the people on this bus. Because of you, I now believe that people can make a difference. I now believe in laughter and song, and I believe in the old lady's smile, and I believe in the young man's tears.

I believe in healing.

And, most importantly, I believe that in the end, you and your loved ones will be together again, in the place where love and pain, birth and death, joy and sorrow, belief and fear, are one.

I love you all. Thank you for teaching me to believe again.

Lazarus' Eyes

I kept hearing the comment, "the pictures just don't do it." As photographer I pointedly decided not to take my camera on tour. It was time to act on a credo I hold so dear to my heart, "It is not the program, it is the relationship! As I process through my soul the experiences of the last week of my life I can't get past one thing, her eyes.

I remember as a child, my mother/aunt taking me to all sorts of places to sing in the church choir. There weren't many of us and often we would sing after some inspiring or semi-professional choir. But African American churches are very forgiving! We would sway and sing and clap and sing while the audience jumped to its feet. They too began to sway and sing and clap and sing assuring us that they had once been there. Assuring us that we were the best choir of the day because we weren't trying, we were just singing our hearts out.

If it weren't for moments like that over thirty years ago I would not have been standing in Slidell, LA on 16th of December. The roles had changed, here I was in the "professional choir" from New York City feeling a wellspring inside of me as the music track of a Black church's Chrismas favorites floated in the air. Over that soundtrack was the unmistaken voices of children singing their hearts out mingling and intertwining with their adult counterparts. As we ran from the bus to prepare to sing and our group stopped to ready ourselves, I kept running around to the front to be bathed in this choir's sounds and inspiration.

And then I heard a familiar lyric, "Hark the herald angels sing," followed by, "Jesus the light of the world." My heart warmed, my voice involuntarily hummed, my body swayed and my hands started coming together in a familiar rhythm--clapping to the beat of the song. I was back in church--six years old singing one of my favorite songs from our hymnal "Jesus The Light Of The World." I liked it because we could finally clap to a Christmas Carol as kids! This choir was showering me with memories, comfort, familiarity and joy. I looked at the people looking at me, smiled at the people smiling at me. The members of the World Art Project had caught the fire and were clapping and swaying telling this choir to "sing on!".

It was then I realized, this was the only concentrated group of African Americans I had been in the company of during our entire tour. Then I saw her eyes. She was of dark complexion, 5 or 6 years old. She was standing between a teenager and an older woman. At first I didn't notice that she kept looking to each of them in turn for reassurance, holding the pant leg of each in turn. I thought it might be stage fright but for her eyes . . . Her hair had been straightened not by a relaxer but by a straightening comb heated in fire, her scalp greased well. You could tell because the hair close to the scalp had been gingerly straightened and the ends weren't as straight as the rest of the hair. It had been pulled back into a ponytail. There were stray hairs escaping from either temple. The coat she wore to keep out the chill fit just right. The kind of just right that tells a momma it won't fit next week this time. The kind of just right a momma knows will keep just enough chill out in the night air.

But her eyes . . . almond eyes of black strictly bordered by white. Her eyebrows ever so slightly burrowed above the bridge of the nose. She had the eyes of Lazarus. Eyes that registered being left alone in a dark and scary place. The only place in our world that is not familiar. What Lazarus would call inside the tomb. The eyes of a child not quite believing the Christmas lights on the trees in a park where a few months ago there had only been water. Her eyes would continue to look for reassurance from that adult and teenager she stood between even as she left them to come onstage and sing with us. She was not scared to be away from them. There was an invisible rope between her and them. She knew they wouldn't let her go, they hadn't before. Her eyes made my heart weep and I wondered what the story was behind her eyes.

Then I found out. Like so many others her town had been flooded and destroyed. There was little if anything left she, her family and friends could call their own. But there was one difference from her perspective. You see in her little community as rescue workers descended to help, save and sadly count the dead no one came. For seven days her town, she her family and friends were written off as casualties of the storm. You see from the beginning no one could find a way into the town the report was that there was no town. For seven days the girl with Lazarus' eyes holed up in a town while water lapped and splashed. For seven days and nights out of a short life of 5 or 6. Thankfully a newsreporter from the town asked the question, 'How come I can't find anything out about my hometown?'. Armed with a camera crew and some rescue workers they finally found a way. That is the story she told with her eyes.

December 16th in Griffith Park, Slidell, LA it is no wonder the choir sang, "We'll walk in the light, beautiful light, come where the dewdrops of mercy are bright. Shine all around us by day and by night. Jesus the light of the world."


Monday, December 19, 2005

A note of gratitude...

Subject: bayou tour
Sent: Sunday, December 18, 2005 6:01 PM
Hi Liza. I live in Slidell, Louisiana and was affected by Hurricane Katrina. My home sustained some wind damage but by a miracle did not flood. The water was up to my doorstep.

Unfortunately, my family was not so fortunate. My father and step-mother lived only two miles from me but their house flooded and is uninhabitable. They, along with their dog, are living with me. My mother lived only about three miles from me and she lost everything. She has only a slab left. She is also living with me.

Me, my dad and my two young children were fortunate enough to see you and your World Art Project Tour here in Slidell on Friday night. I cannot even begin to tell you how much that meant to us. I had tears in my eyes several times during the performance. My children were swinging when the bus pulled up. We watched as all of you got off of the bus. When we heard you sing -- all I can say is wow! It was so uplifting, so joyful, so heartfelt and so much fun. You really had us laughing hard with the 12 Days of Christmas. It was so good to see my dad laughing while trying to remember all of the moves!

I just wanted you to know that you made a difference. All of you brought some much needed joy to a very devastated area. I hope that all of you have a great Christmas. We really appreciate what y'all did!

Slidell, Louisiana

Sunday, December 18, 2005

A Letter from Santa

Dear boys and girls of all ages,
As you all know this is Santa's busiest time of year. Christmas is drawing near and I've been very busy up in the North Pole. There's so much to do! Keeping watch over the elves as they hurry to finish their toy making. Making sure the reindeer are well fed and getting their rest. And, reading all the letters I get from boys and girls from all around the world. You know, I get so many sent to me up here in the North Pole that I have my own post office! I try to read every letter I get before Christmas Eve, even if I don't have time to answer them all.

One letter in particular touched me this year. It was from a young woman named Liza Politi. She lives in New York City. She wrote to tell me that she and some of her friends who love to sing and tell stories were going on a bus trip down to the Gulf Coast to spread some holiday cheer to children and their families who had been affected by Hurricane Katrina. They were planning to go to many different places to sing Christmas songs, tell Christmas stories, and let everyone down there know that they had friends from all over who were thinking of them and wishing them well during their difficult time.

I smiled from ear to ear when I read this! It warms my heart so much when I hear about people doing such good deeds for one another. Liza then asked me for a special gift. She and her friends were planning to stop at the Kiln Library in Kiln, Mississippi to perform for a group of children who had been displaced from their homes because of the hurricane. She said it would mean a lot if Santa could make his way down to the Kiln before Christmas to see the children and let them know I had not forgotten them. Well boys and girls, I decided if Liza and her friends could take time to come all the way down from New York City then surely I could make my way down from the North Pole for a special visit before Christmas.

I gave my reindeer some extra feed, hitched them to my sleigh, and away I went! Dashing through the snow, I managed to make it all the way down south in record time. I arrived at the Kiln Library just as Liza and her friends were finishing their songs and storytelling. My goodness, those boys and girls were sure surprised to see me. I never saw such a clamor! They helped me carry in my big sack full of books I brought for their library, as many of theirs had been lost in the hurricane. Then we sat down and had a nice visit. I had so much fun sitting with the children. Having our pictures taken together, and listening to their Christmas wishes.

You know so many of the boys and girls had lost everything in the hurricane, including their toys. Yet, they were all cheerful and happy. And, they asked for nothing special for Christmas this year. Well, except for a few 4X4 trucks, and 2 wheeler bikes. Oh, and Barbie dolls! Ho, Ho, Ho! Now don't you worry, children. My elves will work extra hard to get all those toys ready by Christmas. I was having so much fun, but I had to get back home and get to work. So, I filled my sack with all the wonderful pictures the children drew for me, and dashed off to fetch my reindeer.

Well boys and girls, I'm back at the North Pole now getting ready for Christmas. I want to thank Liza and her friends for being so kind and spreading holiday cheer all along the Gulf Coast this year. And, I especially want to thank all the boys and girls I met at the Kiln for being so good. I was so happy to see each and every one of you. Thank you for your wonderful pictures, and especially all your wonderful hugs! You made Santa's day!

And thanks to everyone around the world who has reached out to the people who have been affected by the hurricanes. My wish for you is that you continue to reach out whenever and however you can. It means so much to them. More than you will ever know. Be good to each other, and love each other as much as you can. Oh, and Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Happy Holidays and Much Love,

Friday, December 16, 2005

gulf waters

Wednesday December 13th, 2005 9:45 am….
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi

gulf waters

looking at the gulf waters
so calm and still
the sun shines bright
on the water
miles and miles of coast
with trees dressed in
shards of ripped and torn
pieces of grass, of wire
radiators, plastic bags
sheets, a pink bra
trees at a 90’ angle
broken and bent
in sharp angles
refrigerators busted open
stanking to high heaven and three blocks away
spilling foam and plastic
so many white sheets and striped mattresses
caught in the tangle of pines
that have lost their favored place
in the warm sun
near the great gulf waters

in the background, the hum of tractors
sheets of orange netted plastic dangling
blowing gently in the breeze
those waters really had their way with this land
her people have to surrender to the water
to survive

folks here have that tough
gritty, black starry look in their eyes
the kind of look, that when you go in
you see so much going on
it looks like the embers in a fire
they have lived thru a force of nature so strong
so vicious and mean
the soul of a person looks back and remembers only the waters
surrounding them
while tables and chairs
neighbors’ tables
float by thru the front door
and out the house from a 3rd floor window
talking about how lucky they were
to have a few bottles of scotch floating by
so they have something to wash their hands with
cause when the waters went down
they had nothing, saw nothing, couldn’t do anything
for three days till the water and the mud subsided

so i’m sitting in this gulf sun
coming down this christmas to carol for folks
i’m sitting close to the ocean, by a salt water pool
what i suspect is leftover from those great waters
i see a solitary whooping crane, looks like a sole survivor
moving really slowly through the water
i’m wondering if her legs are ok
she’s kind of staggering across the water
stopping every now and then
to stretch her neck and lean down to feed
there’s a few cricket sounds
but things are very quiet here this morning
except for the handsaws, the hammers, the bulldozers
in a lazy rhythm with the generator
some of those FEMA trailers with their blue tops
have brand new CHAMPION CHIPPERS
spitting out all those mossy Live Oak trees
like popcorn
looms white and large behind me
and volunteers and workers from all around
start drifting in for breakfast or coffee
a tiny white guard house is being built
wires going in slowly
sensors, lights
so when darkness falls, and there’s no moon
you can still see in the night


Day 1's Show...

Our first performance was Wednesday night in the Morrell Foundation's feeding tent. It is just that...a giant tent with a wood-chip covered floor and 3 rows of folding chairs and tables, a makeshift trailer kitchen and a serving line which uses portable plastic hot boxes to keep the food "hot". Donated supplies are stocked everywhere. The plates are styrofoam to-go containers and Dora the Explorer paper bowls and cups. Bright orange, pink or blue plasticware are at the end of the line. But what this lacks in charm, it more than makes up for in love and generosity of spirit. These dedicated, wonderful people work so hard to create meals for the volunteers who are from all over. Church groups from Tennessee, individuals from California, a Jewish group from Minnesota...some who are here for a week at a time while others have moved their entire families here for the last 3 months, home schooling their children and giving them a very different kind of education about the indomitable human spirit in the process.

When we arrived for the show there were very few folks here at first. I was concerned about whether this would all be a bust with no audience. The thought that maybe we were wrong about this flashed through my mind more than once. Sarah Hamilton and Liza Politi who organized this all never seemed to doubt the power of what we were doing. That amazed me and both encouraged me and made me more nervous! Either they were dreamers with the incredible talent to make those dreams a reality or they were nuts!! I was hoping for the former but feared the latter.

We tried to gather a few more folks from the building that the Morrell brothers had built for the volunteers to sleep in and then it was time.

As people got their dinner and sat down, we gathered to sing. Folks were looking at us rather warily...trying to figure out what this group of performers from NYC were going to do. Well, here it was...the make it or break it moment.

Connie, our friend from the liquor store, had shown up and before I knew it, Liza had her up singing our first song, "Deck the Halls", with us. I took this as my cue to begin getting "volunteers" to come up. When I saw anyone singing along, I jumped into the audience, took them by the hand and brought them up front to sing with us. There were some teenagers who got nabbed early on. After I got two of them, another girl came walking up on her own from the back of the room. It was working!!! The faces of the everyone in the room changed. Smiles abounded. When we hit "Rudolph", I headed straight for a 5 year girl called Natalie who I had met earlier. And she was a star!

Before I knew it, we had about 10 audience members up front, singing with us. Obviously, Liza and Sarah knew exactly what they were doing. There were maybe 50 or so folks there but it felt like more. Song after song, we had people coming up and joining us and even those who chose not to come up, were singing along. For that hour, people forgot about the tragedies they were seeing and experiencing day after day. There was this incredible release throughout the tent. We became this amazing community.

By the time we did our now infamous "12 Days of Christmas", complete with hand motions, everyone was on their feet, joining in with the Morrell brothers doing a solo on the 5 Golden Rings moment! The energy in the room was beyond description. This was an evening I was not soon going to forget.

Throughout the evening I had tried to get Natalie's friend Colby to join us. Colby is an eight year old boy who had made it abundantly clear over and over that there was no way he would come up. Natalie came up to join us on the last song and she leaned in to tell me that Colby wanted to come up for the last song. Well that was all I needed to hear. Off I went to get Colby and sure enough, he was happy to join us. I leaned over to both Natalie and Colby to tell them that the song was "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" and was informed by Colby that of course he knew that. He was a pro and needed no help from me! *grin*

When all was said and done, it was one of the best performances I can remember doing in years. All the mad scrambling to put this together and worries of whether it would "work" or not were gone. People who an hour earlier were strangers were giving us hugs and thanking us for coming. Telling us how much this meant to them.

Some are even seeking out our other performances! What an amazing experience this is turning into and this was only the first performance!

If you build it, they will come!

Disastercorps Gives Thanks....

Subject: Update
Date: Wed, 14 Dec 2005 20:50:51 EST

Don't know if you are checking your email along your route but Margaret is loving assisting your group. What a joy it is to have you in the Gulf. A blessing will be for each of you for sharing your time and voices, we loved the Joy to the World download we got the other day. Hope the weather will not be to bad for the rest of the week.
Thanks again, your group is wonderful!

Stephanie Spencer

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Day 1....

So today (Wednesday) we began the day by heading over to the Morrell Foundation's feeding tent which was the same place we were going to sing later on. It was the first time we able to see some of the devastation by daylight. There are not enough words to describe what we saw between our motel, Key West Inn, and the feeding tent and that was just the beginning. All along the road near us, we're able to see buildings with their roofs caved in or windows blown out with only half of a wall left. But that is not the worst of what we would see today.

As we turned onto the road near the beach, we passed lot after lot where all that was left of the homes were the three concrete front steps and a small plywood sign with the address spray-painted on it. Later on we learned that these folks' homes had been pushed by the waves and wind further inland so that many of the lots blocks behind them had 4 and 5 houses that had landed there. Those poor people now have to clear all those additional houses and debris from where their homes used to be.

It was a beautifully sunny day as we drove into the beach front area where the Morrell Foundation has their volunteer housing and feeding tents/building. This is an amazing operation. Volunteers who come in from around the country need a place to stay and somewhere to eat. Since there are few restaurants and even fewer places to stay this organization has built a building with loads of rooms with cots. There are not as many volunteers coming down as 3 months ago and yet the need is still great. The few volunteers who are still coming are a dedicated and wonderfully giving group of people. They are here to help clear out these homes, many of which have not even been touched yet. Refrigerators have remained exactly where they landed filled with rotting food. These incredible people empty all the debris out of these homes and then start bleaching/cleaning in hopes of making the structures somewhat inhabitable. This is difficult work both physically and emotionally.

We missed their breakfast time but their generosity is such that Tom, who runs the kitchen, went back into the kitchen and made us pancakes. Amazing pancakes at that!

After breakfast, we were joined by Margaret from Disaster Corps, an organization that was started by a woman called Stephanie Spencer who lost everything in Hurricane Floyd. These are some of those incredible volunteers I described earlier. Margaret gave us a guided tour through some of the worst hit areas of Bay St. Louis and Waveland. Large old trees that look like snapped matchsticks are everywhere. Rooftop after rooftop smashed into the ground. Homes that don't resemble anything like a home but a pile of sticks, like a popsicle house gone awry. Every time we saw another devastating sight I had the impulse to want to photograph it in order to document this insanity. After a bit of time, I felt guilty. I felt like we were treating this disaster like a tourist event...riding through the area on our big blue bus, snapping photos. It seemed so wrong. Houses sitting in canals, chimneys smashed to bits, a pink bathroom sink, tub and toilet strewn about a property...wrong to take pictures and yet wrong not to. People outside of here need to know how awful this still is.

When I was trying to raise awareness for this trip, I contacted everyone I could think of. One major corporation with which I had some ties told me that they were "All Katrina'd out.". I'm sure these folks here are "all Katrina'd out" but still they go on.

After the tour we had a bit of down time. The next thing I knew, we were standing in the liquor store next door to the hotel, singing "Frosty". It seems that the folks in there seemed awfully down so we thought we'd cheer them up. Little did we know who we would meet but a wonderful local woman called Connie. She joined in with us and stayed and chatted with us. She is amazing. An older woman who informed us that she had just gotten electricity into her FEMA trailer the day before!!! Crazy! This is December. Well Connie was amazing. She asked where we were parking our bus at night and offered to let us pull up next her trailer if we needed to. She then took our schedule of performances and promised to try to join us.

We had another rehearsal in the afternoon and then gathered for our first performance. We had no idea what was going to happen next. We arrived at the Morrell Foundation tent and there were very few folks there. We were afraid that we wouldn't have much of an audience and a bit worried about how this was all going to go. We try to gather folks and before we knew it, we had a small crowd of about 40 or 50.

What happened next is part of the miracles of this trip...Stay tuned!

Sue Berch

From Sarah... Can you Believe it has been only six weeks?

To think Liza and I started this mission just six weeks ago. And other days the truth is very real, with fourteen hour days, lack of sleep due to excitement and schedule changes and travel. That being said, so much can get done when many people help. It reminds me of a Quaker saying my Aunt Neva use to say that I think I said at one of our first meetings. "Many hands make light work". And Boy have I ever seen it to be true up to now.
In this mere time we found a tireless law firm: Debevoise and Plimpton LLP, a PR firm: Swan LLC who were on the ball from the get go, A web master: John Deely who can turn out a site like no ones business , a designer: Jason Kamps at Woof design with creativity to spare, a Fiscal Sponsor: The Field who make our donations possible, A Musical Director: Sara Krieger who keeps our singers connected, a Documentary Team: Malindi Fickle, Kris Leinert, Kari, and Louisa with a compassionate vision, a Producing Team: Stephanie Schrader and Margaret Baillet found keep our loose ends together, and our singers who will carol us all the way from north to south. And I can't wait to meet the great folks from Disaster Corps. And I mustn’t neglect David Margolin Lawson: our sound engineerand Nik Munson:who lent his beautiful voice together with our crew indefatigably last night recorded our version of "Joy To The World" at David's studio. Check out the song! I am so grateful to be part of this talented extraordinary bunch of people.

The Holidays can be a splendid time of year Full of love and tradition. The last few years of my life this has been brought home to me over and over again. What is precious has been very clear to me. Remembering to take a moment everyday to stop and remember what I am thankful for and I am truly thankful for all the generous, generous help I have encountered along these last three months. I truly look forward to meeting everyone when I arrive. Happy Holidays!!

With Much Love and Light
And Anticipation
Sarah Hamilton
Executive Director

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