Sister Cities Project between Kfar Saba Israel, Qalqilya Palestine, and Gainesville Florida USA
When I was asked to be a part of an official delegation to our sister cities in Israel and Palestine, I jumped at the chance to see this historic land! Gainesville, Florida has developed a unique, 3 way relationship with the Israeli city of Kfar Saba and the Palestinian city of Qalqilya. Kfar Saba and Qalqilya are only one mile apart, but unfortunately, the distance between them could not be greater. Over the years we have welcomed delegations from both cities here in Gainesville and have developed strong friendships and relationships with citizens and representatives on both sides. This was my chance to meet our friends and make new ones!
"WHEN THE PEOPLE LEAD" is a film about our Citizen Diplomacy efforts in Israel and Palestine. Please watch this trailer for the film. (I am so excited that it is coming soon!)
Improvisational Painting at Gallery 29, Kfar Saba, Israel
Jamming with the Luminaries, Jason Stahl and our friends at Gallery 29 in Kfar Saba, Israel was my favorite night! I busted out a painting that evening which I donated to the gallery. Video Below...
Painting a Collaborative Peace Mural in Qalqilya with the X-Games Team!
You KNOW I HAD TO leave a mark on that wall. The kids from the X-Games team met me out there soon after I began laying out the space. It was a memorable morning for more reasons than one...
By now, most of you have heard about the Security Wall the Israeli government has erected around it's boarders. Having faced attacks and a lot of other trouble over the years, who can blame Israel for wanting security? However, while I am sympathetic to this sentiment, the reality of what is going on over there is a whole lot more complicated than it may seem. Qalqilya, for example, is not just separated from Kfar Saba by a wall, they are surrounded by it.
I was traveling with Gainesville's Mayor Craig Lowe, City Commissioner Randy Wells, Sister Cities organizers Steve Kalishman and Paul Rothstien, OHS music director Jason Stahl and the positive hip-hop band Luminaries. Our visit proved to be productive, enriching, eye opening and unforgettable. As our program is non-political and only concerned with making peaceful friendly relationships with both sides, unfortunately sometimes things can get complicated, While we were painting our peace mural on the security wall around Qalqilya, City Commissioner Randy Wells showed up to tell us some unexpected and intimidating news. Luckily, everything went well, but this goes to show that nothing is easy in the Middle East.
Media: Check it out! Our Qalqilya peace mural was featured in the Daily Beast! http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/07/16/if-you-build-it-they-will-skate.html
I am proud to say that despite any potential complications, we made strong friendships on both sides of the wall and our interaction continues to be productive. In both Qalqilya and Kfar Saba I had the opportunity to visit schools and interact with artists and musicians to make art together. The video below shows an improvisational jam session held at Gallery 29 in Kfar Saba, Israel between local artists, Luminaries and Jason Stahl on Trombone. I left them the painting as a gift! This evening brought us closer together and proved to be a very inspiring experience.
Our Efforts Continue:
During our visit to Qalqilya we discovered that there is no high school education available to any deaf children in the West Bank past grade 9, (this ridiculous). As we believe that every child deserves the right to an education, our community has launched http://BuildaDeafSchool.org in an attempt to help raise the money needed to build a deaf high school. Complete details of the plan can be found on this website. Please visit and consider donating to help those in need.
These experiences continue to inform my art and citizen diplomacy activities, and we continue to receive delegations from both cities to Gainesville. Most recently, in April 2014, we were honored to host a group of students from Qalqilya who came to visit our school, (Pictures below). I am proud to have this opportunity to help build relationships on both sides of the wall, and will continue to work to bring about the day when we will all celebrate together as friends. Watch the videos of our collaborative performances on this site's, "Art as a Cultural Bridge" page, and read more about our continued efforts at http://citizendiplomacyinitiatives.org.
A Visit from our friends from Qalqilya!
April 2014, A delegation of students and teachers from our Sister City Qalqilya, Palestine visit my school and community of Gainesville Florida! Our students and faculty welcomed our visitors and we all had a great time getting to know each other on a personal level.
We got together one morning and created a Peace mural on our own cities 34th street wall! The basic design was meant to refer back to the mural I created in Qalqilya on the security wall.
A "Sister Cities Blues Jam" was held in their honor where our music students and several of our cities best musicians played in their honor. I created an improvisational painting in 12 parts and gave a piece to each of the delegates to take home.
While Qalqilya is located only about 10 miles from the sea, most of the delegates have never seen the beach before. We took the opportunity to show them St. Augustine Beach where I tried to teach the young students how to body surf. They really enjoyed the experience!
My students and I also had a great time teaching our visitors my favorite game, Ultimate Frisbee! Of course, they were given several discs to take home as gifts and I look forward to playing again with them on day in their city.