Cross Cultural Collaborative promotes Ghanian exchange
Jacquinn Williams | 8/18/2011, 1:22 p.m.
There’s a tiny slice of Africa on a quiet tree-lined street in Brookline, Mass.
Inside Ellie Schimelman’s home, kente cloths decorate the furniture, adinkra stamps lay about on various sized wooden tables and masks leer at visitors from high up on the walls. It is a warm cave of ethnic art bursting with color.
It’s evident from the sheer volume of it all that the collection of art from Ghana took many years and lots of loving care to gather. Schimelman is not an art collector, but she is an art lover who has taken her love of art and her love for Ghana and figured out a way to marry the two.
To accomplish this, she founded the Cross Cultural Collaborative. According to its mission statement, the Collaborative is an educational nonprofit that invites people to Ghana to promote cultural exchange and education through the arts. Long ago on a visit to Ghana, Schimelman — a potter and teacher by trade — fell so in love with the people and the culture of Ghana that she decided to make it her life’s work to share the wonder and the beauty of it with as many people as possible.
“Over there, there is always music playing and people talking,” said Schimelman. “If you’re on a bus and two people are arguing, the whole bus is in on it. They are giving advice and asking what you’re going to do.”
In addition to founding the Collaborative, Schimelman built the Aba House in Nungua, a small fishing village in the suburbs of Accra, Ghana’s capital. The Aba House is a cultural center that is always teeming with activity from visitors, workshops and classes. The Aba House also has eight guest rooms for the people Schimelman brings to Nungua who teach, work with and learn from the local artisans and children. The house is also Schimelman’s second home.
Every year, she returns to Ghana with visiting artists and volunteers. They learn how to make paper out of sugar cane leaves and other local plants that are used in diaries and books at the Aba House. They learn how to do tye and dye, batik, asafo, kente and adinkra.
Working closely together through art, Schimelman hopes that both parties will learn something from one another and bond. At the center of the decades old organization is the need for cross cultural connections and understanding.
“Ghanaians don’t speak the same language,”said Schimelman. We [Westerners and Ghanaians] both speak English but there have been times when after conversing with someone in Ghana I’ve said, ‘Wait what are we talking about?’ ” Words can sometimes get lost in translation. Different phrases, slang and other words can have completely different meanings to people of various ethnic groups. Schimelman says she understands this and makes sure that art lives at the center of the work she does with the Collaborative. It is the universal connector between Westerners and Ghanaians.