The CUltural REbirth of Ukraine Project (CURE) aids the economic development of Ukraine’s cultural sector by providing artisans with the training, supplies, exhibitions, and promotion that are so essential to their success as professionals. The project seeks to “save Ukraine’s heritage” by helping talented, but unknown Ukrainian artists who “fell through the cracks” of the Soviet system gain the recognition and appreciation that they deserve.
In cooperation with Mr. Volodymyr B. Belanger, the Foundation created the project in fall 2002. Mr. Belanger, born in Kyiv and currently a resident of Los Angeles, has assisted the “neglected and forgotten” artists of Ukraine since 1998. USUF Vice-President John A. Kun met Mr. Belanger in mid 2002, and the two have been working ever since to raise monies and awareness for the program.
Assistance typically is given in the form of supplies, exhibitions, and training. Another important component of this project is to promote Ukrainian visual art and artists to Westerners who usually confuse Ukrainian art for Russian. Mr. Belanger feels the most effective medium is print, and he has already promoted the artists he has discovered in journals that might be read by Westerners, such as the bi-lingual Air Ukraine and the English language Welcome to Ukraine.
It is very difficult, if not impossible, to earn a living in Ukraine as an artist unless you have been trained in an academy. The CURE Project therefore assists those who did not have the opportunity to train professionally.
Old and unschooled, without money, tools, or objects to work on, or people to care about their art, they are often depressed and uninclined to create. “Without our help,” Mr. Belange maintains, these people will die and we will never have known that they existed.”
Nestor Kyzenko, a tremendously talented landscape painter, is such a painter. Prior to the creation of CURE, Mr. Belanger supplied the painter, who today is about 70 years old, with canvases, brushes and paints, unleashing a flood of pent up creativity. Last year alone, Mr. Kyzenko painted over 40 works.
Nestor Kyzenko is a prime example of the kind of art and artists that CURE supports. With only four years of village school, it was impossible for Nestor to gain entrance into the academy. When Nestor completed his military service in Bulgaria and the Caucuses after WWII, he returned to Ukraine. By that time he had a wife and child and any plans he may have had to professionally study art were then closed. He found a job teaching children to paint at a community center. In his spare stime he painted portraits of villagers, still-lives, scenes from everyday life and once was invited to decorate a church. His favorite subject however, remained the landscapes of Slobozhanshchyna. The cover story of the 2001-2002 Winter issue of the in-flight magazine Air Ukraine is about Mr. Kyzenko and contains photos of the artist’s works from Mr. Belanger’s collection.
Petro Yakovenko is another 88-year old self-taught artist who caught Mr. Belanger’s interest. Mr. Yakovenko paints impressionistic flowers, landscapes and some portraits. In May of 2002, Mr. Belanger organized a one-man exhibition at the Museum of Cultural Heritage in Kyiv, which was attended by former Minister of Culture Ivan Dziuba and the artist himself, who traveled all the way from Chernivtsi with his daughter and granddaughter. He also helped arrange an article about Mr. Yakovenko in the November issue of Welcome to Ukraine.
In all, Mr. Belanger has ‘adopted’ seven artists along with Mr. Kyzenko and Mr. Yakovenko. They are Anton Karnatowycz, Anatoliy Bashkevycz, Natalka Chernova, Petro Handa and Mykola Makrenko. People in Kyiv have become aware of Mr. Belanger and have started bringing artists to him.
The U.S.-Ukraine Foundation and Mr. Belanger see the future of CURE lying in the same direction. Changes will depend on the amount of money and assistance given to artists and the number of new artists that can be included. Mr. Belanger is optimistic about expanding the audience for these works. “You’d expect Ukrainians to buy them — the scenes are in their genes. And foreigners often buy foreign works as trinkets, souvenirs,” he says. “Yet people in the U.S., Britain, France, Israel and Greece are buying up some of these pieces of art — not because they’re tourists, but because they value it as art.”
If you would like to help the CUltural REbirth of Ukraine Project, send a donation to the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation, clearly marked for CURE, to 1701 K St. NW, Suite 903 Washington, DC 20006
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