In 2011, Sarah Drake ’05 ’09, a St. Cloud State University alumna with a master’s degree in social responsibility, travelled to rural Burkina Faso, West Africa, to connect with other women and contribute to their artistic ventures. During her stay in the village of Tiebele, she discovered the community of 63,000 had just nine fresh water wells capable of serving fewer than 4,500 people. Since learning about the area’s unmet basic needs, Drake has committed to using her art proceeds to increase access to clean water and sanitation.
She’s also using art as a means to educate audiences — from Minnesota to Moscow — about racism and human rights.
“For me art is a powerful tool for social change because it is a skill I have to use, but more importantly, art is a universal language,” Drake said. “People don’t have to be from the same country or speak the same language to understand the emotions conveyed in a piece of artwork.”
Drake has worked as a career planner at the Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council since 2007 and interned at the St. Cloud Human Rights Office. A painter with graphic arts training, she started exhibiting her artwork at summer fairs and in a St. Cloud Art Crawl before entering larger competitions. In 2012 she earned an international silver medal for surrealism in the “Earth, Time & People” juried exhibit at the West Park Art Gallery in Manhattan.
Since learning about the unmet basic needs of villagers in Tiebele, Drake has committed to using her art proceeds to increase access to clean water and sanitation.
The recognition led to an invitation to join 25 international artists in exhibiting at the Marina Tsvetaeva Museum and Cultural Center in Moscow. Drake was among the first U.S. citizens to present artwork at the museum. Responding to the theme “America,” she created “Whose Liberty?” a provocative mixed-media piece depicting the Statue of Liberty as an African woman in chains. The work has been selected for the museum’s permanent collection.
“I’m just fortunate that I love doing art and I get to use it in conjunction with my passion to work on global social topics,” Drake said.
Drake commemorated her inclusion in the Moscow exhibit with her first solo art show, “Open Doors,” at the Great River Regional Library in December 2012. “Open Doors” featured kitchen cabinet doors painted to depict key moments in the life of Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva. Tsvetaeva, a giant of 20th century Russian literature, was a survivor of revolution, civil war, famine and purges.
Drake’s environmentally-friendly artwork is created with upcycled supplies ranging from leftover fabric to cabinetry. Upcycling is a process of repurposing cast-off materials into new products or art objects. Drake regularly checks the stock at Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore and Goodwill looking for materials to “leave little or no footprint.”. The practice also allows her to support local nonprofits and job programming.
Filled with bright patterns and raw edges, Drake’s art generally has a message that steps beyond reality with a twist on the truth. “It also contains hope for the future,” she said.
Drake hopes that her recent acclaim will continue to fuel sales of her work and, in turn, help improve living conditions in the African community of Tiebele she has taken to heart.
“My goal is that viewers will develop respect for, and an understanding of, Burkina Faso, Africa—the challenges and awesomeness,” Drake posted on the Facebook page “herARTS in Action” where she publicizes her efforts. Find more information at herartsinaction.com.