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I show off my painting “Expression” at Thomas Jefferson High School. Photo: Provided.

Hi everyone,

Today, I want to share with you about my childhood dream of becoming an artist – and how I made that dream come true while helping to bring my community together. 

As I’ve mentioned before, I really wanted to become an artist when I was a little girl. I admired artists everywhere I went – just looking at their artwork brought me so much joy! It inspired me to dream that one day I might display my own artwork and likewise bring joy to people’s lives.

As I began the self-loving journey to becoming an artist, I learned about art therapy – helping people through art! That's what I want to do, so I looked up different programs for art therapy. I found one at Seton Hill University. They told me I need to take required classes in psychology and art.

One of the classes is painting. In that class, the teacher told us to close our eyes and to draw some different lines. I did, and when we opened our eyes, he told us to connect the lines, asking what it is we saw. The instructor told me my painting was amazing and asked me to do it in colors. 

Painting my mural with students from Gill Hall Elementary School. Photo: Provided.

That’s how I created my painting “Expression.” Each one of us expresses ourselves differently. When we share our differences, though, all these beautiful colors come out of us. There is more that connects us than separates us. 

It was that theme that caught the eye of the superintendent of the West Jefferson Hills school district. He saw my painting and thought it was amazing. So, the district put it in our new building at Thomas Jefferson High School! 

I donated it to the school, and when I saw it, I felt so much joy. It was the same as you feel when you are a little kid and you are in line waiting to get an ice cream – you are jumping up and down for a turn to get your own, so excited for the treat. Or, when you unwrap a holiday gift and you can't wait to see it. Finding out they were going to display my work at the high school felt like that kind of joy.

I told the superintendent I had gotten permission to paint a wall at Arsenal Middle School for my “Pittsburgh Builds Bridges” mural. He was so pleased and thought that was such a great idea that he wanted to give me a wall in all the schools in the district. 

The mural we painted at Thomas Jefferson High School. Photo: Provided.

I painted at all five of the district’s schools! Each time I sketched it, but different kids, staff and teachers come to paint the brush strokes. I would ask them how they built bridges. My medium is art, but what is theirs? Or, for the little ones, I would ask “how do you make friendship?” I wanted them to think about how they might use their gifts to bring people together.

Before the pandemic, Visit Pittsburgh – our city’s tourism board - had a campaign called “Pull up a chair, you are welcomed here.” Each chair represents 99 neighborhoods and is painted by an artist. I had one of the chairs! It was a beautiful and amazing experience, seeing different chairs and embracing the concept of welcoming people. Pittsburgh is welcoming to everyone, we thought, and by saying “pull up a chair” we wanted people to know they are welcome here. 

My chair for the “Pull Up a Chair, You Are Welcome Here” campaign. Photo: Provided.

The success my art has had in Pittsburgh, especially how I and others have used art to bring people together, made me think that I might write a children’s book about my journey toward the wall. I talked to my daughter’s reading teacher about it, and she encouraged me to come into the school to get feedback from the 3rd, 4th and 5th grade students. 

So, I went to the school, and I got their feedback. It was an amazing experience hearing what the kids had to say. I’m still in the process of creating a children’s book about building bridges and the beauty of all of us coming together. That’s the purpose of art, I think. At least, that’s the purpose of my art.

Sincerely,

Ebtehal Badawi

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