SANTA ANA, California — With dwindling charitable giving, NGOs are forced into coming up with innovative new ways of using art to garner donations. The British Red Cross has created a walk-through type simulation called Seeking Sanctuary that seeks to create an “immersive experience” for visitors in hopes that it will foster empathy for refugees.
By recreating what a refugee camp might feel like, the Red Cross hopes to convey the sense of loss felt by those forced out of their own homes and country.
A similar event by the name of Struggle for Survival, set up by Global Hand, was received with great praise, even leading Sir Richard Branson to say “everyone should do this.” In addition to evoking empathy, organizers strive to empower participants into becoming advocates in an effort to create a culture of giving.
In the simulation, participants are brought to a basement meant to look like the slums of a third world nation. Once here, participants are told to sell paper bags, and if they fail, they are yelled at and asked to sell their children or anything valuable enough to make them money to live off of (Solomon).
The desperation of the situation bleeds through and leaves an impact on the participants.
The economic recession has led to a widening of the gap between the rich and the poor, which has directly impacted charitable giving. Daniel Goleman posits that wealthy people tend to have less empathy for those of lower social standing than themselves. This means that as the income gap increases, the lower classes have less money to donate, and the upper classes have more prejudice against donating.
As more of the United States’ money is placed in the hands of fewer people, the values of those people become more important.
If they are not able or willing to see the value of donating, then charities, relief organizations and advocacy groups will suffer. However, if they are somehow able to see the value of giving, as billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffett have, they can create astounding levels of beneficial change.
This is part of the reason art can have such an important effect for the world’s poor. If possible donors (who are sought out and targeted for invitations to these new simulations) are emotionally affected by what they see, if they can empathize with the world’s poor, then they are much more likely to donate.
‘Othering’, the concept of seeing others as different from and often beneath you, is rampant in today’s political landscape. Republicans look down on Democrats; Democrats look down on Republicans; American politicians often look down on the rest of the world from their tower of economic and governmental superiority.
However, this arrogance does nothing but ruin international relations with other countries before they even start. Othering is simply the ignorance of others that art has the ability to obliterate. Through the growing awareness of its ability to promote empathy and forge new bonds between people from vastly different social and political backgrounds, art may become one of the greatest assets the world’s poor have.
– Jordan Schunk
Sources: New York Times, A Kellogg’s View, The Guardian, CNBC, Hyperallergic
Photo: International Beethoven Project