Art has played an important role in the Rwanda Project from the beginning. While the project has focused on photography as the core means of expression for the children, their education has involved many complementary topics including color, vision, “seeing” and understanding art and personal expression. Kesra Hoffman, a fine artist and landscape painter has led the art education for the project since 2001. The initial art session was a workshop on drawing and painting including an overview on line, shading, color mixing, and perspective. Kesra also spent time outside of “class” drawing portraits of some of the children and the landscape around the orphanage. Through her example, the kids were able to see in action, as well as practice, some of the ideas covered during the workshop.

With each annual photo workshop the photographers and the rest of the children at the orphanage have had the opportunity to work with painting and drawing. Kesra repeatedly shared images of her paintings with the kids along with a discussion of composition, light/shadow, leading lines, texture, pattern, repetition, contrast, and color balance. Seeing art in another medium using these same ideas gave the kids a broader sense of how to incorporate them in their own photographs.

In 2005 the project pursued a broader art goal - to have children outside of the photographic workshop collaborate with Kesra to paint a mural at their new orphanage. Although art (drawing, painting, photography) is not a subject that is taught in primary school in Rwanda, many of the children at Imbabazi are natural artists.

Five boys were selected to work with Kesra and brainstormed what could be illustrated on the hallway wall outside their classroom. They decided the background should be landscape similar to what they saw outside, and they wanted children playing, men and women working, and animals like birds, giraffes and gorillas. While they laid out the composition with pencil on the wall and began the painting process, we invited everyone else to paint a boarder-square, to brighten the hallway.

In the end, the mural was a superb success. During 8 intense days, the boys learned first-hand about color mixing, depth perception, light and shadow, and composition. The hall is now bright with a mountain landscape vignette and blocks of color and pattern by the touch of many hands. Art has a permanent home at the Imbabazi Orphanage.