Compiled by Carla Picasso, Communications Intern Global Ties U.S.
Global Ties U.S. asked our Community-Based Members to share how they interact with arts and culture through exchange programs like the International Visitor Leadership Programs (IVLP). Michelle Wilson, Executive Director of Global Ties Akron, reflects on a 2020 IVLP focused on fashion entrepreneurship and its continued impact on global women artisans. Alannah Crandall, Manager of International Programs and Events for Global Ties San Francisco, gives an inside look at AXIS Dance Company and its work with the disabled community. Lastly, In-Jee Lee, International Programs Coordinator for the International Institute of Wisconsin, discusses a virtual exchange focused on the role of video games in higher education. Read more below.
Global Ties Akron
During the past five years, Global Ties Akron has nurtured relationships and built partnerships with International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) and IREX Community Solutions alumni of programs connected with fashion, arts, and cultural heritage. These partnerships are woven alongside local refugee and immigrant artisan talent to create a unique retail boutique called Global Threads Fair Trade.
Global Threads is a social enterprise of Global Ties Akron, and provides economic empowerment and earning opportunities to local refugees, immigrants, and globally affiliated “artrepreneurs.” The concept evolved from years of welcoming groups connected with the U.S. Department of State through cultural exchange programs or refugee resettlement.
The boutique brings together global and local artisans to honor women’s empowerment, cultural heritage, fair trade, global education, international exchange, and the work of citizen diplomacy. Artisans sell in downtown Akron’s Northside Marketplace and the Global Ties Akron online WooCommerce store, and proceeds support Global Ties Akron’s Global Threads programming and global education programs.
In March 2020, an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) group of Fashion Entrepreneurs from Madagascar visited Akron. As part of their visit, the IVLP participants met with Jackie Bertolette, producer of Ohio Fashion Week and editor, creative director, and photographer of Haute Ohio magazine. Today, Global Threads boutique features three of the Malagasy IVLP alumna:
- Eva Rakotoarivony Ep Razakandraina | Lambà by Eva
- Sariaka Voahirana Rahamelison | Sariaka Rah
- Jean Christiansen Andrianantenaina Randiantodisoa | GAONA Couture
Several of the IVLP participants’ designs have been featured in Haute Ohio magazine – the state’s only quarterly high fashion publication – including the cover image by GAONA Couture, the fashion line designed by Jean Christiansen Andrianantenaina Randiantodisoa. (To learn more about the IVLP alumnae’s heartfelt experiences with Global Ties Akron, listen here.)
On the horizon for 2022, Global Threads will be contacting a recent Nigerian Fashion Entrepreneur IVLP who designs and manufactures fabrics to explore the possibility of adding African Batik fabrics to the boutique. Global Ties Akron has uncovered local interest from a Northeast Ohio African American Cultural Heritage Quilting Guild as well as a women entrepreneur who specializes in products made from African Batiks.
Ongoing meetings with a woman entrepreneur IVLP from India who works with hundreds of handicraft artisans and another IVLP from Mexico who works with indigenous women artisans are examples of how Global Ties Akron plans to soon grow its product lines and global reach after the New Year. – Michelle Wilson, Executive Director
Global Ties San Francisco
Fadi El Halabi from Lebanon is a disability rights advocate, psychiatrist, former talk show host, and celebrated dancer with a passion to dance salsa and bachata using his wheelchair. After his 2017 International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) on disability rights, Fadi was selected to virtually return to the United States in 2020 for IVLP Gold Star: Commemorating the 30th Anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), administered by Shawn Davis at FHI 360 at the national level.
Gold Star projects build upon the original IVLP experience of alumni, making way for greater impact through a reflection of lessons learned since that time. Typically, IVLP Gold Star participants visit the same cities as in their original itinerary. While Fadi did not come to the San Francisco Bay Area as part of his 2017 IVLP, he was determined to virtually visit this time around for one key reason: It had always been his dream to connect with AXIS Dance Company, an Oakland-based integrated dance company on a mission to redefine dance and disability. Founded in 1987, AXIS Dance Company “builds access to dance education for disabled and non-disabled people of all ages.” They continue to tour the world and have appeared twice on FOX TV’s So You Think You Can Dance, showcasing integrated dance to millions at home and abroad.
Fadi’s project was one of the first three Gold Stars in the new IVLP virtual world. In fact, for us at Global Ties San Francisco, our July 17, 2020 meeting with Fadi and AXIS Dance Company was our first foray into IVLP virtual altogether. In the meeting, Fadi shared his experience with dance and why connecting with AXIS Dance Company has always been a dream of his, and he and our AXIS speakers discussed integrated dance as a mechanism for change. We’re grateful to Fadi for introducing us to this fantastic new professional resource — one working hard to empower the disability community and allies for a redefined world.
After meeting such a genuine group of people, I hoped it would not be long until we could reconnect in some meaningful way. An opportunity arose only a few months later when we assisted Global Ties U.S. with its Youth Ambassador and Cultural Performer recruitment efforts for the USA Pavilion at Expo 2020 Dubai, and were able to nominate AXIS Dance Company to be one of the USA Pavilion acts.
AXIS Dance Company recently completed their set of performances in Dubai, tagging us in all their social media posts along the way. From my home over 8,000 miles away, seeing our program partners performing on stage to an incredibly diverse crowd of amazed and smiling faces filled me with so much pride and joy. “Undoubtedly, there is a young Fadi in the crowd, inspired to redefine what disability means for him and his community,” I thought.
To me, this goes to show how deep, meaningful, and interconnected our work in international exchange truly is. We all come into this field with some sort of pre-established interest in “international” — and sometimes we are lucky enough to stumble upon the intersections of our interest in new and exciting ways.
For me, it all started with a personal-turned-academic interest in foreign language and cultures, thanks to an academic advisor at my San Francisco alma mater who suggested I research “cultural diplomacy.” I ended up writing my undergraduate thesis on the subject, highlighting the impact of culture and cultural exchange on international relations, which ultimately led me to apply for the Master of Arts in International Relations program. I completed an internship with Global Ties San Francisco in graduate school and for my achievements in that role was nominated as a Global Ties U.S. 2019 Emerging Leader, bringing me across the nation for the very first time. Soon after my return, I completed my master’s thesis on the IVLP as an effective public diplomacy tool for the networked era.
In the home stretch of my graduate career, I met again with that same academic advisor and told her about how far her earlier suggestion had taken me. It was then that I learned she originally recommended I research cultural diplomacy because it had to do with the work her son was engaged in at the time at Meridian International Center (!) and felt like a good fit with my interests. Only one year after graduating with my M.A., I met Fadi and AXIS Dance Company — who just the year after performed in Dubai on behalf of the United States with our wholehearted support. As time goes on, I continue to dive deeper into my niche and find new interconnections and interdependencies of what once seemed like disparate parts of my life — and each new discovery is incredibly exhilarating. – Alannah Crandall, Manager, International Programs and Events
International Institute of Wisconsin
On July 8, 2021 emerging leaders from Mexico met with three video game developers from Madison, WI in an International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) virtual meeting. The project, “Video Games for STEAM and Entrepreneurship,” explored the intersection of education and AR/VR (augmented reality / virtual reality) and game-based learning for K-12 and higher education learners.
Local panelists included David Gagnon, director of Field Day Learning Games, Michael Beall, owner of Gear Learning, and Steve Chepp, founder of Lost Boys Interactive and a board member of the Wisconsin Games Alliance. The visitors and panelists shared their experiences and perspectives on designing games that had both a focused educational value, while also being aesthetically appealing to increasingly sophisticated audiences. They discovered that, despite working in different countries and languages, they shared many of the same goals and challenges.
Wisconsin is not traditionally a place known for video game development, being a largely rural state. However, the industry has been leveling up in the state, with a goal of becoming a bonafide regional hub. Wisconsin’s game development is supported by the state’s high number of graduates in STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math). Through the partnership with MCID Washington, this meeting, the first of its kind for the International Institute of Wisconsin, allowed the spotlight on a newer industry in the state.
During the Zoom meeting, participants spoke excitedly about combining their technical expertise, educational goals, and passion for video games. Suggestions were made, ideas traded, and the meeting ended with everyone feeling inspired and ready to build bigger, better, and more educationally impactful games for the next generation of players. #ExchangeMatters! – In-Jee Lee, International Programs Coordinator