Founders Story

                            Aura Copeland

  In 2001, I left my native country of Lithuania for New York City, where I experienced the first of many creatively exhilarating, life-defining culture shocks.  Having grown up in a beautiful town, with cobblestone streets and 500-year old churches, my life in Lithuania had been quietly suffused with the old world traditional European culture.  Then, after high school, I studied architecture at Vilnius Academy of Art, where my education was rigorous, traditional, and demanding. It was an excellent education from an excellent school, and I'm very glad to have gone there. Upon arriving in New York, I noticed at once that it was the energetic opposite of my life at home, and I found the contrast thrilling. There was a palpable freedom from the authority of tradition in New York; a vital, unregulated mixing of peoples, cultures, and perspectives, that provided an almost alchemical addition of free-flowing intensity to my more traditional upbringing. I loved it, and I knew intuitively that I would try to "marry" within myself and in my work the traditionalism of my past and the energetic freedom and diversity of New York City.  And so began my life's project of seeking out vitalizing contrasts between different cultural climates, and of finding creative ways of unifying them.  Soon after arriving in New York, I was able to pursue this project by working as a model, and I learned so much from the fashion and creative people all around me in the industry. After that, I attended Fashion Institute of Technology, where I got my degree in Accessory Design, while experiencing a much edgier, and more spirited approach to education than I had in Lithuania.  Most recently, I have started my own signature line of accessories.  Perhaps inevitably, after living in New York for a while, my craving for contrasts prompted me to travel frequently, often to non-Western countries. And I have thrived creatively ever since on the bracing experience of drastic spiritual and emotional juxtapositions, as I immerse in one culture and then another - indeed, often in one civilization and then another.  Have you ever gone to a bathhouse, and jumped from a hot sauna into a cold pool? The experience of this kind of travel is the spiritual equivalent of that!  It's incredibly stimulating.  In all cases - whether it's from Lithuania to New York, or from New York to Haiti - I have found my inspiration in creatively combining traditional and modern, past and present, western and non-western cultural energies.  Throughout, the key to it all for me has been to base myself in the vibrant international city of New York, and from here to travel and immerse in other countries and cultures.  Having met so many people over the years, moving in such different circles, with my tendency to combine diverse forces and personalities in my projects, I was creatively fulfilled.  After all, I was living my life's vision of the creating works that I loved, in collaboration with people I respected from all over the world.  But then, when I was traveling in Haiti, I had an illumination. I was visiting an orphanage and I asked the teachers there about the arts education of the children. These were kind, concerned, and dedicated teachers, but they all took a view that was surprising to me: the arts, they said, were a first world luxury. They would love to teach the children such things, but they found it unrealistic to do so. Their view was that the children had to be taught how to earn a living first, and then later perhaps some creative arts instruction could be added to their lives. But even then, they said, they lacked the resources for seriously teaching the children about art.  I thought back to how I felt about creating art when I was a child. Long before I ever studied art and design, drawing and creating were all I ever wanted to do - even when I was studying other subjects!  It was so saddening to me that these kids didn't have the same opportunity to express themselves creatively. And I felt that if I could somehow help bring arts education to them, and perhaps to other underprivileged children in the developing world, then that might well fulfill me even more deeply than all my personal projects had. That would certainly be a purpose larger than myself to which I could eagerly become dedicated.  But of course I knew that comparing their childhoods to mine was very personal for me, and so I had to remind myself that creativity was my calling in life; other kids might not respond as I had to the same kind of teaching. Was I just being sentimental? Was I perhaps projecting my own temperament onto people who might be very different from me?  But having done some serious research, it turns out that science confirms my intuition that nearly all children experience meaningful educational benefits from the study of art - and above all from the creation of art. Moreover, it's well-demonstrated that children who are exposed to the arts, and who are encouraged to create, even tend to do better in supposedly "non-artistic" subjects (and what subject really has no element of art in it?), as well as in their lives at large after they get out of school. Creative thinking, in other words, is essential to being effective in life.  Finally, and most importantly, art therapists have shown that the making of art can help traumatized children heal at a deep level from experiences of abuse. And many of the children at these orphanages come from heartbreakingly abusive backgrounds.  So when I say that I want to empower children in the developing world to be creative by teaching them art, I'm not just being sentimental - I'm advocating for a serious, practical, and attainable improvement in their education and overall life prospects.  That is why I co-founded Les Couleurs Charity with my partner, Raminta Lilaite . Every few months we host an exciting color-themed event in New York City, which also serves as a fundraiser for our charity.  Our events bring together artists, designers, musicians, entrepreneurs, scientists and many others from diverse occupations, to focus on the issue of bringing arts education to underprivileged children in the developing world.  To this end, we have developed CREATE program, which brings all these energies to bear upon the practical implementation of this project, always with a careful conservation of resources.  We are hoping to expand CREATE program to other places, too. Perhaps Africa could be next. Perhaps Asia could be next. Perhaps the Middle East. But wherever we end up taking the next phase of CREATE, the goal will always be the same: to help to give a creative voice to underprivileged children in the developing world, and to empower them to heal themselves of privation and trauma, and to fulfill themselves in their later lives and work.   Aura Copeland                                                                                                                                       

 

In 2001, I left my native country of Lithuania for New York City, where I experienced the first of many creatively exhilarating, life-defining culture shocks.  Having grown up in a beautiful town, with cobblestone streets and 500-year old churches, my life in Lithuania had been quietly suffused with the old world traditional European culture.  Then, after high school, I studied architecture at Vilnius Academy of Art, where my education was rigorous, traditional, and demanding. It was an excellent education from an excellent school, and I'm very glad to have gone there.

Upon arriving in New York, I noticed at once that it was the energetic opposite of my life at home, and I found the contrast thrilling. There was a palpable freedom from the authority of tradition in New York; a vital, unregulated mixing of peoples, cultures, and perspectives, that provided an almost alchemical addition of free-flowing intensity to my more traditional upbringing. I loved it, and I knew intuitively that I would try to "marry" within myself and in my work the traditionalism of my past and the energetic freedom and diversity of New York City. 

And so began my life's project of seeking out vitalizing contrasts between different cultural climates, and of finding creative ways of unifying them.  Soon after arriving in New York, I was able to pursue this project by working as a model, and I learned so much from the fashion and creative people all around me in the industry. After that, I attended Fashion Institute of Technology, where I got my degree in Accessory Design, while experiencing a much edgier, and more spirited approach to education than I had in Lithuania.  Most recently, I have started my own signature line of accessories. 

Perhaps inevitably, after living in New York for a while, my craving for contrasts prompted me to travel frequently, often to non-Western countries. And I have thrived creatively ever since on the bracing experience of drastic spiritual and emotional juxtapositions, as I immerse in one culture and then another - indeed, often in one civilization and then another.  Have you ever gone to a bathhouse, and jumped from a hot sauna into a cold pool? The experience of this kind of travel is the spiritual equivalent of that!  It's incredibly stimulating. 

In all cases - whether it's from Lithuania to New York, or from New York to Haiti - I have found my inspiration in creatively combining traditional and modern, past and present, western and non-western cultural energies.  Throughout, the key to it all for me has been to base myself in the vibrant international city of New York, and from here to travel and immerse in other countries and cultures. 

Having met so many people over the years, moving in such different circles, with my tendency to combine diverse forces and personalities in my projects, I was creatively fulfilled.  After all, I was living my life's vision of the creating works that I loved, in collaboration with people I respected from all over the world. 

But then, when I was traveling in Haiti, I had an illumination. I was visiting an orphanage and I asked the teachers there about the arts education of the children. These were kind, concerned, and dedicated teachers, but they all took a view that was surprising to me: the arts, they said, were a first world luxury. They would love to teach the children such things, but they found it unrealistic to do so. Their view was that the children had to be taught how to earn a living first, and then later perhaps some creative arts instruction could be added to their lives. But even then, they said, they lacked the resources for seriously teaching the children about art. 

I thought back to how I felt about creating art when I was a child. Long before I ever studied art and design, drawing and creating were all I ever wanted to do - even when I was studying other subjects!  It was so saddening to me that these kids didn't have the same opportunity to express themselves creatively. And I felt that if I could somehow help bring arts education to them, and perhaps to other underprivileged children in the developing world, then that might well fulfill me even more deeply than all my personal projects had. That would certainly be a purpose larger than myself to which I could eagerly become dedicated. 

But of course I knew that comparing their childhoods to mine was very personal for me, and so I had to remind myself that creativity was my calling in life; other kids might not respond as I had to the same kind of teaching. Was I just being sentimental? Was I perhaps projecting my own temperament onto people who might be very different from me? 

But having done some serious research, it turns out that science confirms my intuition that nearly all children experience meaningful educational benefits from the study of art - and above all from the creation of art. Moreover, it's well-demonstrated that children who are exposed to the arts, and who are encouraged to create, even tend to do better in supposedly "non-artistic" subjects (and what subject really has no element of art in it?), as well as in their lives at large after they get out of school. Creative thinking, in other words, is essential to being effective in life.  Finally, and most importantly, art therapists have shown that the making of art can help traumatized children heal at a deep level from experiences of abuse. And many of the children at these orphanages come from heartbreakingly abusive backgrounds. 

So when I say that I want to empower children in the developing world to be creative by teaching them art, I'm not just being sentimental - I'm advocating for a serious, practical, and attainable improvement in their education and overall life prospects. 

That is why I co-founded Les Couleurs Charity with my partner, Raminta Lilaite . Every few months we host an exciting color-themed event in New York City, which also serves as a fundraiser for our charity.  Our events bring together artists, designers, musicians, entrepreneurs, scientists and many others from diverse occupations, to focus on the issue of bringing arts education to underprivileged children in the developing world. 

To this end, we have developed CREATE program, which brings all these energies to bear upon the practical implementation of this project, always with a careful conservation of resources. 

We are hoping to expand CREATE program to other places, too. Perhaps Africa could be next. Perhaps Asia could be next. Perhaps the Middle East. But wherever we end up taking the next phase of CREATE, the goal will always be the same: to help to give a creative voice to underprivileged children in the developing world, and to empower them to heal themselves of privation and trauma, and to fulfill themselves in their later lives and work.  

Aura Copeland

                                                                                                                                      

Raminta Lilaite

  I spent my childhood in an occupied country, where self-expression and free-flowing creativity were not possible. Controlled by the Soviet Union, Lithuania was the zone of massive censorship and punishments for expressing free thought, a territory where everyone was a suspect. Then, with weakening Soviet empire and pressure from the West, the Singing Revolution happened. People took to streets and squares in masses, singing Lithuanian songs that were officially still forbidden, raising national flags up into the sky and breaking the chains of a 50-year occupation. Still, some victims were required. After a failed coup in Moscow, the Russian army tried to make its last attempt to take back Lithuania – tanks and armored troops entered Vilnius, the capital, where they were given orders to take over the most important media centers and to drive directly into the crowd of peaceful people, who were protecting our TV tower with their bodies. More than a dozen died and many where injured. They will always remain national heroes. At the same time, the Singing Revolution was becoming a force stronger than any oppressive regime, stronger than armies and tanks. The crowds were growing, and in the end almost everyone was participating – young and old, women and children, everybody united by music, connected by the power of song lyrics created by our ancestors. Some were traditional resistance songs, and others were just poetic odes to Lithuania’s beauty and nature. Finally, Lithuania became free and the oppressing regime crashed. The people got the right to express their thoughts, to build businesses, to freely create art, to write books they wanted to write, and to travel the world. I took advantage of this newly found freedom by moving to New York to continue my university studies I had started in Lithuania, and chose to study for Master’s degree in Communications - creative expression, especially through writing, has always been my natural inclination. At the same time, I fully indulged in the exciting life of this vibrant, limitless, energetic, pulsating international city. Even if it wasn’t always easy to create life in a foreign, sometimes hostile, big city, I always had two strong allies on my side: freedom and education, which helped me break through many doors and opened up new horizons. By having freedom and education, I could start my career, travel the world, and eventually start my own business in PR. By having the ability to freely choose my path in life, I still never forgot to value the freedom that my parents grew up without. And while traveling in different countries, I saw with my own eyes childhoods oppressed not only by political regimes, but by poverty, neglect, abuse and abandonment. Yes, I grew up with limited expression rights and closed country borders, but many powerless, vulnerable kids are growing up today in far more constricting spaces – behind the walls of orphanages and shantytowns, under oppression of despair. These walls not only prevent them from expressing themselves creatively, but deny them the very realization that they have the power of creativity and dignity as full human beings. A recent trip to Haiti was one of the most heartbreaking experiences for me and Aura Copeland, my friend and Co-Founder of Les Couleurs Charity. We visited some orphanages, where children are growing up behind grey concrete walls, with no idea about what’s happening in their city, country or the outside world, without the understanding that they, too, are creators. So here’s a warning - visit a Haitian orphanage, and you run the risk that your life will be changed forever. Shy, sad and cautious at first, these children start to trust you, slowly, and then you find yourself surrounded by many pairs of curious, exploring eyes, hungry for contact, appreciation, and attention. Just like we were endlessly curious about the colorful world outside of the boarders of the Soviet Union, the orphans of Haiti are relentlessly curious and enthusiastic about every drop of new information, a new lesson, any chance to engage, to learn and participate. Human spirit cannot be constricted, and it will hang onto each chance to break the chains of oppression. This trip helped us define the goals of our new non-profit organization. Aura, an artist, and I, a publicist and writer, instinctively felt that art and creativity could be the ultimate way of self-expression that can transcend the grimmest walls of any orphanage, and crush down the heaviest barriers, the same way that the peaceful Singing Revolution crushed the walls of Soviet occupation in Lithuania. We are starting a program called CREATE that is already being implemented in Haiti orphanages, and teaches children the basic principles of art, drawing and creativity. Eventually we want to include language, music, dance and creative writing, and other forms of creative expression that we believe can heal, inspire and educate some of the most vulnerable children in the world. Creativity gives wings and allows you to fly, high above your Manhattan apartment or your Haitian orphanage, into the world of limitless opportunities. Every child that gets the wings is worth all the effort.  Raminta Lilaite                                                                                                                                                 

 

I spent my childhood in an occupied country, where self-expression and free-flowing creativity were not possible. Controlled by the Soviet Union, Lithuania was the zone of massive censorship and punishments for expressing free thought, a territory where everyone was a suspect.

Then, with weakening Soviet empire and pressure from the West, the Singing Revolution happened.

People took to streets and squares in masses, singing Lithuanian songs that were officially still forbidden, raising national flags up into the sky and breaking the chains of a 50-year occupation.

Still, some victims were required. After a failed coup in Moscow, the Russian army tried to make its last attempt to take back Lithuania – tanks and armored troops entered Vilnius, the capital, where they were given orders to take over the most important media centers and to drive directly into the crowd of peaceful people, who were protecting our TV tower with their bodies. More than a dozen died and many where injured. They will always remain national heroes.

At the same time, the Singing Revolution was becoming a force stronger than any oppressive regime, stronger than armies and tanks. The crowds were growing, and in the end almost everyone was participating – young and old, women and children, everybody united by music, connected by the power of song lyrics created by our ancestors. Some were traditional resistance songs, and others were just poetic odes to Lithuania’s beauty and nature.

Finally, Lithuania became free and the oppressing regime crashed. The people got the right to express their thoughts, to build businesses, to freely create art, to write books they wanted to write, and to travel the world.

I took advantage of this newly found freedom by moving to New York to continue my university studies I had started in Lithuania, and chose to study for Master’s degree in Communications - creative expression, especially through writing, has always been my natural inclination. At the same time, I fully indulged in the exciting life of this vibrant, limitless, energetic, pulsating international city.

Even if it wasn’t always easy to create life in a foreign, sometimes hostile, big city, I always had two strong allies on my side: freedom and education, which helped me break through many doors and opened up new horizons. By having freedom and education, I could start my career, travel the world, and eventually start my own business in PR.

By having the ability to freely choose my path in life, I still never forgot to value the freedom that my parents grew up without. And while traveling in different countries, I saw with my own eyes childhoods oppressed not only by political regimes, but by poverty, neglect, abuse and abandonment. Yes, I grew up with limited expression rights and closed country borders, but many powerless, vulnerable kids are growing up today in far more constricting spaces – behind the walls of orphanages and shantytowns, under oppression of despair. These walls not only prevent them from expressing themselves creatively, but deny them the very realization that they have the power of creativity and dignity as full human beings.

A recent trip to Haiti was one of the most heartbreaking experiences for me and Aura Copeland, my friend and Co-Founder of Les Couleurs Charity. We visited some orphanages, where children are growing up behind grey concrete walls, with no idea about what’s happening in their city, country or the outside world, without the understanding that they, too, are creators.

So here’s a warning - visit a Haitian orphanage, and you run the risk that your life will be changed forever. Shy, sad and cautious at first, these children start to trust you, slowly, and then you find yourself surrounded by many pairs of curious, exploring eyes, hungry for contact, appreciation, and attention.

Just like we were endlessly curious about the colorful world outside of the boarders of the Soviet Union, the orphans of Haiti are relentlessly curious and enthusiastic about every drop of new information, a new lesson, any chance to engage, to learn and participate. Human spirit cannot be constricted, and it will hang onto each chance to break the chains of oppression.

This trip helped us define the goals of our new non-profit organization. Aura, an artist, and I, a publicist and writer, instinctively felt that art and creativity could be the ultimate way of self-expression that can transcend the grimmest walls of any orphanage, and crush down the heaviest barriers, the same way that the peaceful Singing Revolution crushed the walls of Soviet occupation in Lithuania.

We are starting a program called CREATE that is already being implemented in Haiti orphanages, and teaches children the basic principles of art, drawing and creativity. Eventually we want to include language, music, dance and creative writing, and other forms of creative expression that we believe can heal, inspire and educate some of the most vulnerable children in the world.

Creativity gives wings and allows you to fly, high above your Manhattan apartment or your Haitian orphanage, into the world of limitless opportunities.

Every child that gets the wings is worth all the effort. 

Raminta Lilaite