Awakening Creativity

Dandelion School Blossoms

Lily Yeh is an acclaimed visual artist who has worked with students, community leaders and teachers in Canada, China, Ecuador, Ghana, Kenya, Syria, Italy and in cities and neighborhoods across the United States. Yeh is considered one of America's most innovative urban designers and social pioneers. Awakening Creativity is her first, much-awaited book.

In Awakening Creativity, Yeh facilitates the art-making process for students of The Dandelion School, the only nonprofit organization in Beijing that serves the children of poor migrant workers coming from 24 provinces. Yeh worked with hundreds of students, teachers, volunteers and workers to transform the school's main campus with mural painting, mosaics, and environmental sculpture. Students were involved in every aspect of the art-making, which has become central to the school's curriculum and well-being.

Lily Yeh founded Barefoot Artists, a volunteer organization that uses the power of art to revitalize impoverished communities. Yeh is also the co-founder and former director of The Village of Arts and Humanities that has brought to life over 200 abandoned lots in the most distressed districts of North Philadelphia.


Title Awakening Creativity
Subtitle Dandelion School Blossoms
Author Lily Yeh
Publisher New Village Press
BISAC Subject Heading ART000000 ART
ARC009000 ARCHITECTURE / Methods & Materials
EDU029070 EDUCATION / Teaching Methods & Materials / Health & Sexuality
Audience 01 General / trade
Credit Barefoot Artists
Title First Published 01 June 2011
Subject Scheme Identifier Code      93 Thema subject category: AMC      93 Thema subject category: AB      93 Thema subject category: JNU      93 Thema subject category: YXAX
Includes Appendices
Format Hardcover
Nb of pages 208 p. Appendices .
ISBN-10 0-9815593-7-9
ISBN-13 978-0-9815593-7-7
GTIN13 (EAN13) 9780981559377
Publication Date 01 June 2011
Main content page count 208
Illustrations 275 Illustrations
plates, color
Dimensions 10.3 x 7.8 x 0.6 in.
Weight 38 oz.
List Price $34.95


Foreword by Robert Shetterly
1. My Development as an Artist
2. The Dandelion Community: A Mirror of a Difficult Society
3. Introduction: The Dandelion School Transformation Project
4. Fall 2006: Meet, Listen, Inspire, and Explore
5. Fall 2007: Discovering the Creativity Within
6. Spring 2008: Teamwork, Leadership, and Re-Creation
7. Fall 2008: Personal Journeys and Cultural Heritage: Developing Awareness Locally and Globally
8. Spring 2009: Preserving the Experience, Sustaining Transformation
9. Impact
10. Methodology


During a visit at Dandelion, an exhibition of beautiful handwritten letters came to my attention. Seventh graders in Teacher Wang Jien Hua's class wrote these letters, each to one of their parents, sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings. Teacher Wang is a strict, stern, and totally dedicated teacher. She never gives up on a student. Her students fear, respect, and love her.

With the help of the Beijing-based Xin Lian Xin (Heart to Heart volunteer project), Dandelion has set up an activity to address the gap between many students and their parents. Every year, students are asked to write personal letters to their parents, which are then read during parents' meetings at school. Many students feel estranged from their parents, while the latter cannot grasp what is going on emotionally with their children. This letter writing assignment has become a powerful tool to heal these wounds and reconnect the two generations.

Both Shou Bao Zhuang and Lao San Yu were farming villages with homes clustered along major roads. The homes used to be surrounded by farmland, now mostly appropriated for new development projects, including the construction of low and sprawling homes for migrant workers. The original residents of Shou Bao Zhuang and Lao Shan Yu no longer farm. They rent out rooms and lease their land to the new comers, the migrants from all over the country.


Press Reviews

Journal of Art for Life
Awakening Creativity: Dandelion School Blossoms, by Lily Yeh, is an in depth exploration of the development and implementation of the Dandelion School Project in the Daxing District on the outskirts of Beijing, China. Throughout the ten chapters, Yeh takes the reader on an exciting journey of her five year experience helping students and staff utilize the arts to transform the Dandelion School from a drab and desolate structure to one teeming with vibrancy and life.

- Carolyn Brown Treadon

Public Art Review
Nov 1, 2011
All public artworks are community works; merely by virtue of their placement in the public realm, they are products of, by, and for the people. Within this broad truth, however, are myriad degrees of cultural intention. Public art can bully (Third Reich monumentalism), strut (1970s plop art), or simper (CowParade). In a few cases, it can transform a community.

- Joseph Hart

Children, Youth and Environments
The outward look of an environment makes a clear, defining statement about the values of the people and activities housed within that environment. The Dandelion School, recreated by Lily Yeh, is a dramatic demonstration of how a school's environment is a direct reflection of the teaching and learning in that setting—and how deeply the quality of the environment affects individuals’ self-esteem and their own perceived worth in the community. This is a very important understanding about the built environment.

- Susan Goltsman

Midwest Book Review
Mar 9, 2012
Art is in all of us, and the best seek to encourage it in others. Awakening Creativity: Dandelion School Blossoms is a chronicle of author Lily Yeh's journeys, offered as an example for encourage art all over the world. Focusing on her campaign in China, where she got an abandoned factory converted to encourage local middle school students, and helped them find artistic expression. Presented in full color and plenty of example art works throughout, "Awakening Creativity" is a choice pick for any educational collection dedicated to promoting the arts.

Midwest Book Review
May 9, 2011
Creativity is a certain flare of spirit that is truly unlike anything else. Awakening Creativity: Dandelion School Blossoms is a call for social change through creativity from Lily Yeh, as she shares her own drive to make the world a better place through art and tells her story of turning a wasted factory space in Beijing into something that is so much more - the Dandelion school, aimed at the local children to give them inspiration for a better future. With a certain dedication, Awakening Creativity comes with a powerful message that definitely should not be overlooked.


When I see brokenness, poverty, and crime in inner cities,
I also see the enormous potential and readiness for
transformation and rebirth. We are creating an art form that
comes from the heart and reflects the pain and sorrow of people's lives.
It also expresses joy, beauty, and love.

-Lily Yeh

[excerpt, page 19] Lily Yeh was born in China and grew up in Taiwan, which she describes as "an environment imbued with Taoist and Confucian teachings.  Buddhist thinking is familiar in the way we regard life... But in essence, all spiritaul practice shares one sentence. In Confucianism, it's 'Do not do to others what you don't want done to yourself.' Isn't that Jesus's teaching, love your neighbors as you love yourself'? Ultimately it's about compassion and love."

-Arlene Goldbard

Awakening Creativity is a radical manifesto for social change through art. Lily Yeh is a transformational artist. Yes, she employs pencils, paper, paints and paintbrushes and all manner of objects to create her world-welcoming mosaics. But the art Lily Yeh is most interested in is the art of living. She is a builder, an organizer, an alchemist, and a healer who is drawn to the broken places on the planet from Rwanda to Haiti to her own ancestral home in China. It is here in the open wounds of the world that she finds what is beautiful through the inspiration of those who live there; human beings reaching through the pain of poverty and war to create art which creates joy which is why first and foremost, Lily Yeh is a peacemaker. Follow her work and you will follow the path of transformation. She is a global angel who not only believes in the power of people engaged, but inspires and ignites them through her own creative fire. Lily Yeh changed my life completely and if you read this book, your life as you know it will begin to change, as well, through the vibrancy of art in action called love.

-Terry Tempest Williams


Lily Yeh changed my life completely and if you read this book, your life as you know it will begin to change, as well, through the vibrancy of art in action called love.
-Terry Tempest Williams

Related News

Penn IUR has honored Lily Yeh with the 2012 Penn IUR Urban Leadership Award! Excerpts below or read the entire article.

The Penn Institute for Urban Research (Penn IUR) hosts the 8th Annual Urban Leadership Forum, "Strong Communities and Cities, Sustainable Nations," on Wednesday March 21st from 11am to 1pm to celebrate exemplary leaders who are guiding cities toward a sustainable and vibrant future. The Penn IUR Urban Leadership Award is awarded annually to urban leaders who have made outstanding contributions to urban scholarship and to building cities that successfully respond to the challenges of the 21st Century...

Penn IUR Honors Leaders in Urban Affairs at the Eighth Annual Urban Leadership Forum
Mar 15, 2012

Related Resources

I recently read Lily Yeh's new book, Awakening Creativity: Dandelion School Blossoms (2011, New Village Press) – a documentation of Lily’s artistic collaboration with children of migrant labors in a middle school in Beijing. Her book fascinates me because of her enduring passion toward the "broken places" in the world. Her work, in general, shows me vividly how the principles I have been talking about in class – asset-based, accessibility, alliance, and activism – can work together seamlessly through a contemporary approach to folk art.
-Carol Ng-He Mar 23, 2012

With a singular focus on promoting justice with different communities, Lily feels at home no matter where she is in the world. Her work indeed awakens creativity, myself included. For a long time I have struggled to position my place between my interest in folk art, my background in classical Chinese music, and my current practice as an artist, a college professor and a museum educator. A conversation with Lily has given me fresh resolution to find connections between my past and present, and perhaps for my students in the future.  Here is a little more of what I learned about Lily and her work during my phone conversation with her.
-Carol Ng-He May 1, 2012

Lily Yeh is keynote speaker for the 40th anniversary celebration of Ithaca's Center for Transformative Action.
Oct 19, 2011

At a time of increasing turmoil and despair, artist Lily Yeh takes her work out of the white-walled galleries of high culture and into the streets and hearts of those most traumatized and marginalized by modern life. In this, our second visit with Lily, she describes her most recent work with the children of migrant families at the Dandelion School in Beijing.
-Mark Sommer Aug 16, 2011

Lily Yeh is an internationally celebrated artist and award-winning founder and former executive and artistic director of the Village of Arts and Humanities. Since 1986, with the help of neighborhood children and adults, Yeh has built the Village from an abandoned lot into an organization and a community. She has infused the Village with her own artistic sensitivity and vision, collaborating with other artists and community residents to create a place that brings art into both the physical space and daily rhythms of life. Expanding beyond North Philadelphia, Yeh's work has taken her to communities around the world.
-Michael Stone Apr 5, 2011

We'll explore with artist, educator, and activist Lily Yeh her work with Barefoot Artists, Inc., to bring the transformative power of art to impoverished communities around the globe through participatory, multifaceted projects that foster community empowerment, improve the physical environment, promote economic development and preserve indigenous art and culture. We'll talk about her new book, Awakening Creativity, about her work with the Dandelion School for children of migrant workers in Beijing, where she engages students in artmaking to transform a rundown factory into a vibrant school and community center.

-Steven Dahlberg and Mary Alice Long Nov 10, 2011

Lily Yeh talks with David Kupfer about her art, her activism, and of course, her new book. See an excerpt below or read the entire interview.

Lily Yeh: My work engages people, whose participation ensures its sustainability. This is why I call my art living social sculpture. It usually begins with making art with people; it then expands to include other activities such as storytelling, education, construction, and economic initiatives. The living fabrics of communities become the canvas of my work, creativity its fuel, people's talent and imagination its palette and tools. In the poor communities where I have worked, this process often leads to an improved environment, a better quality life, and a sense of joy and hope for the future.

-David Kupfer

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