From 1986 to 2004, Lily Yeh served as the cofounder, executive director, and lead artist of The Village of Arts and Humanities, a nonprofit organization with the mission to build community through art, learning, land transformation, and economic development located in North Philadephia. Under her leadership of eighteen years, the summer park building project developed into an organization with twenty full-time and part-time employees, hundreds of volunteers, and a $1.3 million budget. The Village became a multi-faceted community building organization with activities such as after-school and weekend programs, greening land transformation, housing renovation, theater, and economic development initiatives. The center works on local, national, and international projects, and is a leading model of community revitalizations throughout the country. Today, the Village of Arts and Humanities serves thousands of low-income people every year.
Yeh's vision has rippled out far beyond North Philadelphia's borders. She inspires and collaborates with prison inmates to create beauty and art, and does the same with thousands of adults and children who live in some of the world's most broken communities. She has collaborated with residents of the Korogocho slum near Nairobi to transform a barren churchyard with murals and sculptures and traveled to Ghana, Ecuador, the Ivory Coast, and the Republic of Georgia to work on similar projects. Her most recent endeavor is the Rwanda Healing Project, in which she worked with hundreds of children and families to transform their bleak village into a place of beauty and joy.
Born in China, Yeh immigrated to the United States in the early 1960s to attend the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Fine Arts. A successful painter and professor at Philadelphia's University of the Arts, Yeh traveled to Beijing in 1989 to show her work at the Central Institute of Fine Art. There, she witnessed the tragic events of Tianamen Square. Over the 1980s, Yeh gradually realized that being an artist "is not just about making art… It is about delivering the vision one is given… and about doing the right thing without sparing oneself." She continues pursuing her vision through her new organization, Barefoot Artists, Inc., which teaches residents and artists how to replicate the Village model in devastated communities around the world.
(Thanks to Americans Who Tell the Truth for parts of Lily's biography)
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