When Dara Lipton GRD ’11 studied art as an undergraduate at New York University, she had no idea it would lead to a two-year stint in the Peace Corps and a future in foreign aid and policy.
On Monday, Lipton, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in international relations, gave a presentation of her experience in combining art and public health in Uzbekistan and Suriname as part of the Peace Corps. Inspired by art as a form of advocacy, Lipton said she devoted much of her training in painting to making socially relevant and poignant art. After her undergraduate program, she decided to bring art to international locations through the Peace Corps and use it as a tool for global change.
“When individuals are engaged in the process of designing and producing art, they learn more about the social issue,” Lipton said. “They become advocates in their community.”
Lipton said her time in Uzbekistan was one of the most rewarding work experiences in her life. The Uzbekistani people, who mainly speak Uzbek, struggle because many of their medical supplies and tools are labelled in the languages of their neighboring countries, Cyrillic and Russian. Lipton first designed posters in their native Uzbekistan to solve the communication issues before creating instructional posters that educated the Uzbeks about widespread issues facing their community including alcoholism and domestic violence. Additionally, Lipton gave community members lessons on drawing and collaborated on these posters, particularly with the women she met.
But Lipton said her work was not as easy as it seemed. Raised in the bustling city of Manhattan, Lipton was forced to quickly adjust to her new village of a few hundred members. And on top of that, cultural differences also made her art challenging. She was unable to use symbols recognizable to most Americans, like a light bulb, because her community didn’t have electricity.
“It’s about using symbols that they relate to,” Lipton said. “It’s important to use locally relevant images and materials.”
In Suriname, Lipton applied these newfound lessons to use art as HIV/AIDS activism. She created murals with local children and adults to raise awareness and prevention techniques. In one particular activity, Lipton visited local schoolchildren and created a large paper quilt. After each child created a square of the quilt that depicted what they wanted in the future — images such as a family, a child, or a vacation in Holland — Lipton explained that it is crucial to protect their health so that they can achieve those dreams. Lipton even created coloring books and instructional cards to distribute to the schools. After returning home, the Peace Corps began to distribute her informational packets on health and sanitation to all volunteers and even hired her to train future volunteers.
“I really enjoyed the talk because it applies so much to me,” said Meghan Uno ’13. “I want to take my passion for art further than just practicing it.”
Two other students interviewed said they found the presentation to be informative and inspiring. Some students noted that they were equally fascinated by Lipton’s life as they were with the subject of her talk.
“It’s interesting to see all the different directions your life can go after hearing about hers,” Li Boynton ’14 said.
After graduation this May, Lipton plans to enter consulting in foreign development and capacity building.