'Chairs For Change' Brings Awareness To Educating Girls Worldwide

Mar 7, 2014

Tomorrow night, the Coconino Center for the Arts in Flagstaff will host an art exhibit and auction called "Chairs for Change." It will feature an array of chairs that have been artistically re-purposed by students at the Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy. And, while each chair will have a unique look, they will all represent the same theme: the movement to educate girls worldwide. Arizona Public Radio's Gillian Ferris reports.

Malala Yousafzai, who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban for her belief that girls worldwide are entitled to an education.
Credit venitism.blogspot.com

Outside an art classroom at FALA, 15-year-old Naomi Frances sits in the sun painting an old rocking chair. "We're painting it with sort of a space theme," she says. "There's a bunch of nebulae and a bunch of stars and a spiral galaxy."

Like the rest of her classmates, Frances has been studying the issue of global education of girls. And she's been affected by what she's learned about the hardships that many girls and women endure in their attempt to go to school. "It really puts stuff into perspective," Frances says. "When you're going to school every day and you don't really think about it. You, like, go to English class and you're like, ah, I don't want to do this. And then you work on this project and you think, wow! There's girls who are willing to put their lives on the line in order to get this education that I'm complaining about."

Naomi Frances, on the right, works on her celestial rocking chair.
Credit Gillian Ferris/KNAU

The project, "Chairs for Change," was organized by Frances' art teacher Janeece Henes. The idea came to her after watching the new documentary film Girl Rising by Academy Award-nominated director Richard E. Robbins. "It takes you through nine girls' lives throughout the world," Henes says. "From Peru to Turkey, even to Haiti. We watched it in my class and we had a lot of dialogue so I was really moved and thought we needed to do something with our art to raise awareness about girls' education worldwide."

After watching the film, Henes decided to have her students use chairs as symbolic representations of having a place to sit down and learn. She gave them carte blanche to design their themes, and then took the project school-wide; into English and social studies classes. Students learned that millions of girls across the world aren't allowed to go to school. And, at least 25 countries do not allow women to attend college.

That information had a profound effect on 17-year-old Catherine Edwards. "I just think that as a young woman myself," Edwards says, "it's a complete injustice that so many women around the world are disadvantaged because they don't get the education we get in America." Edwards goes on to say, "And Malala's great. I think she's a huge powerful voice for women's education."

FALA student Hayden Frederickson builds a bookshelf on the side of an old metal school desk.
Credit Gillian Ferris/KNAU

Malala Yousafzai is one of the girls featured in the film. She made international headlines in 2012 when — at the age of 14 — the Taliban attempted to assassinate her for being outspoken about the need for girls to be educated. She survived the attack and went on to become an international supporter of girls' education. She's been nominated twice for the Nobel Peace Prize. Malala continues to fight for educational equality even though the Taliban has reiterated their intent to kill her for her beliefs. That's part of why FALA student Catherine Edwards is so moved by her story.

Edwards says, "I guess it's because she's the loudest. Everything she's been through put her in the global spotlight and so people are listening to her and she's fighting really hard."

About 50 chairs will be displayed and auctioned off tomorrow night, including several designed by local professional artists interested in the project. The FALA students have decided that all proceeds will benefit the Malala Fund which "empowers girls to raise their voices … and demand change."