As the world battles COVID-19, climate change and rising political tensions, the past couple months have been jarring and challenging for people all over the globe. During these tumultuous times, Yifei Gao (23C) founded the nonprofit organization, Art for Heart, which is dedicated to raising awareness and fundraising for various social and political issues, including racial injustice and climate change.

Yifei Gao (23C) united social activists, artists, writers and more to create Art for Heart./Courtesy of Yifei Gao

Gao’s background as an artist and her passion for networking inspired her to bring together social activists, artists, writers and friends to create contents and manage logistics for Art for Heart. On July 30, the organization launched the project via its Instagram account. Knowing that art can inspire social and political movements, the page is primarily used to post paintings, collages, short stories and postcard designs with information related to important social movements. Artworks are also sold to fundraise for charities related to the movements.

“Art can be the fuel for social movements,” Gao said. “My love for art, my love for connecting people and what’s happening in the world around us … really pushed me to create [Art for Heart]. 

The account features artworks depicting prominent social activists, including John Lewis, Marsha P. Johnson and Greta Thunberg, along with a biography of their roles in activism. The organization has called attention to the Belarus election protests and the Mauritius oil spill. Gao hopes that the succinct posts will help more people stay informed about global issues.

“[It’s about] education … taking all this big news and filing it down to something that is really understandable,” Gao said. “Showing people what’s happening in the world through art.”

Art for Heart hopes to soon partner with more nonprofit organizations, and is currently working with the Aloha Animal Sanctuary in Hawaii to fundraise for rescued farm animals. Art for Heart will provide art of the farm animals in exchange for donations for their living expenses.

The organization is split into different teams: content, outreach, financial and legal support, social media and marketing, and in-house artists. The content team processes the submissions and works with the social media and marketing team to create the Instagram posts, using artwork from the in-house artists. The outreach team contacts various nonprofit organizations for potential partnerships, while the financial and legal support team has been filing the paperwork to become a nonprofit and searches for ways to grow their funds. 

Outreach director Joyce Korir (23C) said the organization emphasizes the importance of collaboration and ensures every member’s contributions and opinions are valued. Gao said she appreciates how well the teams work together, as the members often take on different roles as needed.

“They’re like puzzle pieces that fit together,” Gao said. “I would say they’re very different people but … something’s really beautiful about diversity.”

As outreach director, Korir reaches out to nonprofits nationwide that could potentially collaborate with Art for Heart’s artists. Most recently, she has been facilitating the partnership with the Aloha Animal Sanctuary. Although she is not an artist herself, Korir still strongly believes in the impact art can have, even virtually. 

“I feel like it’s hard to have the same kind of interaction, especially when you’re not in person,” Korir said. “But I feel like art can … really connect with an audience.”

Similar to Korir, Jenna Lasky (23C) also contributes to the organization without creating art. As a social media content associate, Lasky researches activists and writes descriptions and biographies for Instagram posts. 

Lasky emphasized the importance of staying nonpartisan and vetting potential activists. As someone who had been involved in activism long before joining Art for Heart through sharing resources and information on her Instagram, she appreciated the organization’s wide and diverse reach.

“This will reach more people outside of my immediate social circle,” Lasky said. “A lot of people close to me already know these topics are very important to me … so I’d rather infect other people with the same passion.”

Though Art for Heart saved money by starting its work through Instagram, the team hopes to expand to new mediums, including a magazine. They plan to cover movements such as Pride and Black Lives Matter in their magazine and continue raising awareness for activists and current events on their Instagram. 

Gao also hopes to increase the accessibility to art by launching an initiative that provides art supplies, which are often costly, for children in underserved communities. 

As the team and their ambitions continue to grow, Gao said she is grateful with how far they’ve come and is excited to expand Art for Heart’s reach and impact. 

“We want to make the most social impact we can … educate the most people we can, … provide art supplies and provide resources the most we can,” Gao said. “It’s about the process. We’re all friends … just having fun.”