Erica Weitzel believes in the power of art, that it can give everyone—especially the underprivileged—the opportunity to improve their lives. And she recently put her belief to the test in a small, rural village in India.
“My mission is to use art to educate about social issues, empower the community and give people a creative outlet to express themselves,” says Weitzel, who earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2007 with a double concentration in painting and photography.
Indians who live in rural areas are fortunate to get a basic education in reading, writing and math. Art education, though, is almost non-existent. That’s why an Indian businessman with family ties to the village of Pusla came up with the idea of creating an arts center that would be free and open to the public. Enter Weitzel, who got involved in the project thanks to a connection with Chicago artist and former Cincinnatian Augustina Droze. Weitzel was helping Droze paint murals in Chicago last summer when the two discovered a shared interest in combining art, philanthropy and international development.
Droze is president of the non-profit group funding the Pusla project. Indian businessman Vivek Bhagwatkar started it while living in Chicago as a way to give back to his homeland and honor his artist mother. Weitzel, who says her experiences on alternative breaks as an undergraduate inspired her to pursue art-based international development, volunteered to help Droze and Bhagwatkar conduct a month-long series of art education workshops in Pusla.
“I packed a bag and moved to India,” she says. Since she doesn’t speak Hindi, the language barrier was a challenge, but one she overcame largely by virtue of her artwork.
“During workshops, I had locals translate for me. But luckily with art, it’s a little easier to teach by example.”