Supporting refugees with art, music, theater

Local artists held a benefit event March 28.

Angela Smith, a local performer, found that many members of her theater community felt helpless when they turned on the news. As a group of artists, Smith knew they had no shortage of talent, but individually they struggled to find a way to use those skills to help people in need.

After a mass Facebook invite that spread around the city’s artist community, followed by weekly meetings at Smith’s house, the group created “The Art of Giving,” a small benefit event to support refugees in the Philadelphia area.

On March 28, a group of 22 artists and several organizers and supporters came together in the lobby of The Drake Theater to sing, act and crack jokes to raise money for JEVS Human Services, a social services nonprofit based in Philadelphia.

Katherine Shinholster, director of corporate and foundation relations at JEVS, said “The Art of Giving” was JEVS’ first event of this type.

“In the artist community, there’s huge resources of talent and performers and we thought maybe we could come together and have some sort of night where we could transfer that into helping people by raising money,” Smith said.

“Artists don’t make any money, but they’re also some of the most giving people in the world,” said performer Hannah Van Sciver. “I think it’s actually because they don’t make any money, they know the value of being given.”

All of the proceeds from ticket sales, the raffle and refreshment sales were donated to JEVS Human Services. InterACT Theatre Company even donated its space, the newly-renovated ballroom of The Drake located at 1512 Spruce St., to the cause. Smith said they raised nearly $700, excluding online donations.

Shinholster said “The Art of Giving” specifically supported JEVS’ Center for New Americans, which aims to place refugees from all over the world into jobs in America. She said the money raised at the event will go toward educational books for learning English, clothing for refugees and their families and gift cards with which refugees can buy groceries and other necessities. JEVS will also put the donation toward informational trips to museums and venues around the city to help refugees learn about the city they are living in.

The evening included an eclectic mix of theater, poetry, original and cover songs and comedy. Griffin Stanton-Ameisen and Jared Delaney from the theater group Revolution Shakespeare turned Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 55” into a folk tune while actor Brendan Norton read Christopher Robin’s will, which featured characters like Winnie the Pooh and Piglet.

Eleni Delopoulos covered Pete Seeger’s “What Did You Learn in School Today?” and dedicated the performance to her 2-year-old son. She said she wanted to get involved to set an example for her child.

“I have a kid and I want him to grow up accepting everybody and hopefully doing better things for the world than our generation is,” she said. “We’re trying, but I just feel like it’s important to walk the walk.”

Smith said many artists, students and refugees attended the initial planning meetings for the event, but numbers began to dwindle. Smith’s friend, visual artist Irra Vinokur, helped organize and sold concessions at the event.

Vinokur came to the United States as a refugee from Ukraine when she was 11 years old.

“I’m a white woman from the Ukraine and I am a refugee,” Vinokur said. “I’m not an American citizen, but I don’t have a very strong accent, so everyone kind of shuffles me along and I really feel that what we need for the refugees to really flourish and contribute to our society in Philadelphia is to integrate and to welcome them.”

“They are the hungry, they are the poor, they are the starving,” she added. “They have come to our shores. It is our responsibility to take care of them, point blank. We’re America, let’s back ourselves up.”

Because all performers donated their time, Smith said they were free to do whatever they wanted, making for an open-format evening of entertainment.

“It’s cool to be asked, actually,” Van Sciver said. “It’s cool to be asked to perform. As an actor who usually has to audition, it’s nice to be given the opportunity to be giving of yourself.”

“These are real people,” Vinokur said. “These are the people that drive change and have ideas. These are the people who in five or 10 years will go on to influence minds and ideas and we’re all local, we’re all here because we want to be here, we want to support the arts, we want to support our community.”

Erin Moran can be reached at 

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