VADA students working on sculptures at SBMA's Ridley Tree Education Center at McCormick House.

December 10 is Human Rights Day, a day set aside to honor the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, put into effect by the United Nations’ General Assembly after World War II. It consists of a preamble and 30 articles that define the core rights of the four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of belief, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. It holds the record for the most translated document in the world. And yet the struggle for human rights continues, across the world and in our own country.

For 11 students from Santa Barbara High School’s Visual Arts Design Academy (VADA), simply learning about the importance of fundamental human rights wasn’t enough. They seized the opportunity to use art for activism and create an art exhibit that educates the community about the importance of the declaration.

VADA has had an ongoing collaboration with the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, but this year Sondra Weiss, SBMA’s senior art educator, took on a special eight-week internship with a select group of juniors from the Design Academy. The internship was based in ceramic art, and since Santa Barbara High School doesn’t have a ceramics lab, the students were very grateful to have the museum’s at their disposal. Weiss chose the the Declaration of Human Rights as a theme for the internship. “It’s a great catalyst for change,” she said of the document. “With the economy and the government looming over our heads, I thought the declaration would inspire compassion in the students and their art.”

As part of the internship, each student completed two projects. The first was a figurative sculpture. Each student chose a word inspired by the Declaration of Human Rights-words like faith, observance, or dignity-and created an original clay sculpture based on that theme. The second piece was a wall hanging. “Each student chose a different article of the declaration to represent,” Weiss explained. The articles range from the abolition of slavery to the denouncement of torture or inhumane treatment. “These students are getting a chance to educate their community and their peers; it’s pretty powerful,” said Weiss, adding, “We’re facing the darkness, not looking away from it.”

The works of art created by the VADA students will be exhibited at SBMA on December 10, 2009: the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Human Rights. Weiss urged anyone who is interested in the project to attend, and reflected, “I don’t think the world changes in giant leaps, but through small acts of compassion.”


The opening reception for VADA’s Declaration of Human Rights art exhibition will be held at the SBMA store on Friday, December 10, from 4:30-6 p.m. The works will remain on display in the SBMA store window until January 4. For more information, call 963-4364 or visit


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