WHEN New Yorker John Lombardo discovered pupils at disadvantaged schools in Nelson Mandela Bay were hungry to learn about art, he devoted his life to them.
The executive director of New York-based Artworks for Youth even provides food, school shoes and uniforms to Sivuyiseni Intermediate and Joe Slovo Primary School pupils.
He is just one of the dozen inspirational people that have been selected as finalists in this year’s The Herald GM Citizen of the Year awards.
His relationship with the Bay began in 2003.
“We had a site at a public school in New York City that already had a relationship with an NGO based here. As part of that programme, I visited Sivuyiseni Intermediate School in KwaMagxaki,” he said.
Noticing a greater demand, he said: “Students were far more appreciative than those in New York. And we could work with more students here [with] the same budget. A year later, we were working exclusively in the Bay.”
Artworks for Youth started operating full-time in the Bay in 2009 when Lombardo relocated to South Africa and has gone the extra mile ever since.
Sivuyiseni Intermediate School principal Willreau Farao said Lombardo’s involvement not only benefited pupils but teachers too.
“Arts and culture is a new subject but we are seeing the importance of it now,” he said.
“When I see how pupils get interested and show their creativity in sculpting, painting and collage I see how it benefits them.”
Farao said Lombardo also provided food for his pupils and helped fix the school building.
Lombardo said: “Feeding students adds a lot of stress. I can improvise if there is a shortage of art supplies, but I need to feed every student every day. It is not something that I can wing.”
However, he does not underestimate the power of art as a creative outlet for children from disadvantage backgrounds.
“While we know that art instruction does not provide solutions to the larger issues faced by our students, I strongly believe that our students can more easily face these burdens through art.”
ArtEC Community Art Centre chairwoman Theresa Hardman, along with Colin and Jan Wells, nominated Lombardo for The Herald GM Citizen of the Year.
“He is from another country but he is doing so much good here,” Colin said.
Artworks for Youth had also benefited members of the communities.
Hardman said: “He has involved many residents in the project, employing them as teachers, coordinators and workers. He also brings volunteers from the United States to help him with the project.”
Lombardo goes back to New York every three months, where he runs fundraising activities for the project.
In May, Lombardo put up an exhibition of some of his pupils’ work at artEC where the public were able to buy the work.
He is exhibiting the work in the US where he is raising more funds.
“We have an annual appeal in October and a large fundraising event in May. We bring a lot of the students’ artwork for an exhibition, and have an art auction that includes work by South Africans and New York artists,” Lombardo said.