Orlando artists are coming together this weekend in efforts to raise funds for Ukrainian artists suffering during the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The “Ukrainian Artists Defending Freedom” exhibit, which opened to the public May 5, will run until May 15 in City Arts’ upstairs Redefine Gallery. The “Artists United for Peace” concert will take place at 3 pm May 15 at First Church Orlando.
The “Ukrainian Artists Defending Freedom,” which debuted May 5 at CityArts in downtown Orlando, features illustrations by Ukrainian artists that reflect the war. The exhibit was organized by local Ukrainian Anna Morozova, who has lived in Orlando for six years, and still has family members residing in Ukraine.
“My mom, my dad, my grandpa, a whole bunch of friends and colleagues, they are still in Ukraine,” said Morozova, who is from the town of Sumy, which is only an hour from Russian borders.
“My hometown gets hit literally on the first day,” Morozova said. “Many people died.”
Her mother cannot leave Ukraine because she is disabled.
“She relies completely on the care of other people,” Morozova said. “So that was very hard for me psychologically, emotionally… and my mind was hurt all of the time.”
She donated and tried to raise money, but was brainstorming other ways to help when she had the idea for the art exhibit.
United Arts of Central Florida president Jennifer Evins said Morozova called her and asked if there was any way the local arts could help Ukrainian artists.
“Let me see what I can do,” Evins said. She contacted Barbara Hartley, the executive director of the Downtown Arts District, who arranged for gallery space.
“We have a gallery inside CityArts called Redefine Art Gallery,” Hartley said. “And they actually had an opening where they didn’t have any plans or something fell through that month.”
Hartley said they asked artists in Ukraine to send over their images, which she had printed at a local print shop.
“Then they were asking for donations,” Hartley said. “If you wanted an image, you could keep it, just make a donation.”
The exhibition has raised more than $8,000 for Nova Ukraine, the nonprofit organization the Ukrainian artists selected to benefit from the fundraising, Evins said.
An opening reception was held May 7, which many local Ukrainains attended.
Hartley said there was a video of Morozova’s hometown played at the reception.
“You could see the rubble and reality of what Ukrainians are going through,” Hartley said.
Morozova said many people cried at the event, which was very touching for her.
“Americans crying for a country they have never even been to and are not connected,” Morozova said. “It was very nice.”
Evins said the exhibit is really just a way of doing something right.
“Do something to advance the awareness,” Evins said. “The arts have been used to communicate messages of war for centuries.”
The “Artists United for Peace” concert will reflect the journey of Ukrainian ballerina Anastasiia Mirraslavskaya and her struggles to make it to safety during the Russia-Ukraine War.
Theresa Smith-Levin, director of Central Florida Vocal Arts, who is performing in the concert, said the script tells the narrative of the conflict through the eyes of an artist.
“I think it’s really easy for all of us to sort of become immune to actual humanity from the crisis that is going on,” Smith-Levin said. “So, hopefully this brings that firsthand human element to it and makes it a little bit more personal for all of us.”
Ricardo Canchola, founder of the Interactive Academy of the Performing Arts, organized the event and works with a variety of Ukrainian performers. He feels having a personal bond with the performers brings a different level of understanding to the crisis in Ukraine.
“I knew how critical it was,” said Canchola. He said many performers do not make much money when they are touring.
“So when the war began, I knew they were going to be struggling for money,” Canchola said.
He had been sending money, but thought he could increase the fundraising with some help, which is the reason he started producing the concert.
While Canchola said he sponsors many artists, he wanted to center the concert around one story.
“That’s when I decided to do Anastasia’s story, because I’ve been sponsoring her,” Canchola said. “I’ve been helping to bring her to safety.”
Canchola said the concert has an incredible lineup of performers.
Among the artists performing are Smith-Levin and the Central Florida Vocal Arts singers, Gabriel Preisser and the Opera Orlando singers, Andrew Minear and Orlando Sings singers, Tim O’Keefe, Sergei Kossenko and Aleksandra Vargas.
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“I think we all want to find ways to be supportive and do something during a time like this,” said Preisser, adding that he was honored to be invited to participate in the concert.
Preisser said it is moving to read the words of the artists and what they are currently experiencing.
“I think everyone needs to hear these words and hear what’s going on over there from firsthand witnesses,” said Preisser, noting that putting the words to music connects all of us.
“Music is that universal language,” Preisser said. “So use our universal connector, and hopefully remind everyone of our shared humanity.”
- CityArts Orlando presents ‘Ukrainian Artists Defending Freedom’ exhibit May 1-15 at CityArt’ upstairs Redefine Gallery. All proceeds from sales will go to Nova Ukraine.
- The “Artists United for Peace” concert will be presented 3 pm May 15 at First Church Orlando, 142 E. Jackson St. The concert is free admission, with donations being accepted at fusionfest.kindful.com (select the Artists United for Peace campaign in the drop down menu).
Email me at [email protected]. Want more theater and arts news and reviews? Go to orlandosentinel.com/arts.