American artist Betsy Eby, whose work is included in the Art in Embassies exhibition at the residence of Ambassador Ebert-Gray in Port Moresby, traveled from Columbus, Georgia, to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, and Honiara, Solomon Islands, to conduct a series of artist exchanges with artists in both cities. The goal of this cultural exchange was to demonstrate and encourage female empowerment through art.
The program started on Monday, March 19, at the University of Papua New Guinea (UPNG), Waigani, with an exchange with local artists and art professionals who presented an overview of the achievements and challenges in Port Moresby and Papua New Guinea as a whole. This meeting was followed by a workshop in which Eby shared her practice and her experiences as an artist with the goal to encourage the local artists, especially female artists to use innovation and creativity to grow their own practices. After a break for lunch, Eby introduced her encaustic wax painting, which was very inspiring to the participants
Later that day, Ambassador Ebert-Gray hosted an evening reception at the Residence where the artist had a chance to meet artists and art professionals who did not have a chance to participate in the earlier workshop.
On Tuesday, March 20, the US Embassy Public affairs team hosted a meeting to discuss the importance of the creative economy and government support at the U.S. Embassy. The meeting was attended by the acting director, Dr.Alois Kuaso, and the Deputy President of the Board of Trustees of the PNG National Museum & Art Gallery, Mr. Andrew Abel. In the afternoon, Eby conducted her second workshop at UPNG. The group included well-known artists from Port Moresby and other parts of the country who stayed in the capital to be able to attend all three days of workshops, as well as young students from the UPNG. One of the exchanges that had a big impact on Eby was with one of the younger female students who proclaimed; “No one has ever spoken to me this way, no woman has ever spoken to me this way. Now I know I can do things in the world. This class was the turning point of my life, giving me permission to pursue my dreams.’
On Wednesday Eby and Dr. Alois Kuaso visited the National Museum and Art Gallery,currently in the process of being renovated. It was a privilege to be allowed a behind-the-scenes tour of all the cultural artifacts and art work being prepared and conserved for the opening of the renovated new spaces within the museum. In the afternoon, Eby concluded her workshops and helda conversation with the group of participating artists. This was powerful experience for Eby who had led these three days of workshops and masterclasses and the participants. “Through connecting artist to artist, communicating common dreams, common pursuits, common struggles and a combination of hands-on encaustic master classes, power-point presentations and lessons on critical and creative thinking, I saw a palpable shift in artist’s approach to ways of thinking about their place in the world.” After leaving the PNG university campus, three local artists who had participated in the workshops, invited Eby to visit their studios where they gave the artist a tour of their work in progress and an overview of their current projects.
On Thursday, March 22, Betsy Eby and cultural affairs staff Natasha Bodgers and Sophie Yaruso, as well as Deputy Chief of Mission Mary Drake, travelled to the Solomon Islands to meet with artists and art professionals at Art Haus, a new art venue in Honiara. That same evening Keithie Saunders, the U.S. Consular Agent, hosted a reception for the Solomon Island artists at her house to kick of the two-day artist exchange, including workshops in encaustic wax technique presented by Eby as well as an exchange on how to build a career and an artist portfolio. One of the artists at the workshops in Honiara shared his gratitude and inspirations from the class, adding, “to have the American government bring artists to work with us, well, it reminds me of what’s possible.”
The prearranged radio and TV interviews, Eby said, “provided an opportunity for me to amplify a voice, advocating for reinvestment in contemporary art, in exhibition spaces for artists and for female empowerment. On Solomon Islands Radio, the journalist asked what I would tell women. ’The world needs you,’ I said. ’Women are strong, creative thinkers, organized and multi-tasking. We can run things.’”