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Street Art for Mankind: Murals With a Mission to End Child Slavery

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Right now, 168 million children are working, and 85 million of them are slaves. They might be toiling on farms or in factories. They might be hidden hands of hospitality. Three things are certain: They're being robbed of their childhood, they need your help, and some of them are here in Miami.

“People are aware that it does exist, but they all believe it's happening on the other side of the world,” says Thibault Decker, president and founder of Street Art for Mankind (SAM), a new global initiative that aims to raise awareness and funds to end child slavery through the lens of community and art.

Miami is the the third-largest hub for human trafficking in the United States. That's why Decker and his team chose the Magic City for SAM's large-scale debutSAM is a quinquennial event that will travel to Paris, São Paulo, and Dubai, gathering 30 global and local graffiti artists at each location and opening for exhibitions, concerts, and family-friendly events for ten days. The final day will end with an auction, whose proceeds, as well as ticket sales, will fund Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi's Children’s Foundation, a global organization dedicated to ending child slavery.

The Miami event will bring 35 celebrated local, national, and international street artists to take over a few blocks in the Little River district for ten days of uplifting and educational programming. A few weeks ago, a smaller event was held in New York City, where 15 artists were invited to paint the story of real child slaves in their vision, as well as paint the childhoods the victims should have had. The paintings were exhibited at the United Nations, a strong symbol of the international fight. Those paintings will also be on display for Miami audiences.

“Use the power of art to create social change; that's really what we believe in,” Decker says. “If you're talking about a form of expression which talks to everyone, which captures the reality, sometimes emphasizes it, sometimes just sets it as it is, and at one point pushes people to react and act and rethink, [art is your answer].”

Decker became aware of the travesty when he was an investment manager. He worked closely with hospitality industry giants and soon found himself no longer able to ignore a moral wrong.

“You start digging, and you understand that there are a lot of people aware [of the problem], but everyone thinks there's someone else taking care of it,” he says. “There is a lack of courage in general... It's not the corporate world who is going to solve the problem, mostly because they have a fear. If you look at all the industries that are involved in it, a lot of them are pretty scared of being hit.”
Decker's digging led to Satyarthi's organization. Satyarthi has spent 35 years fighting child slavery, both through political means and by physically raiding the places where these children are being kept and setting them free. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 and was named Humanitarian of the Year in 2015 by the Harvard Foundation.

Decker hopes SAM will bring communities together and show how easy it is to get involved by highlighting the international and local organizations that are already doing so much to make a difference. He applauds the street artists who've gotten involved.

“There's a huge connection between those street artists and those children of the street,” Decker says. “[I'm amazed by] the power, the magnitude, and the size of the pieces these street artists are doing through generosity. It's one of the rare arts where the artists are still generous and still willing to make a statement.”

In Miami, the artists will work on a colossal collaborative piece in the style of the old “exquisite corpse.” It's a surrealist game where you fold a piece of paper in thirds and take turns drawing a picture on each section that should relate to the one before, but each drawer gets only a glimpse at the old form. When you unfold the image, it becomes a strange and exciting creature or scene. The SAM artists will do just that, but instead of using paper, they'll work with shipping containers.

The containers will be displayed in the shape of the letters S, A, and M. They'll create a maze-like experience for visitors to explore, each section corresponding to one of five evolving themes that help tell the child-labor story. Across the street will be a place for speeches, performances, films, and creative environments where attendees can try their own hand at street art.

The artists will arrive in Miami as early as this week, giving them just enough time to prepare before SAM's grand-opening celebration Friday, February 10. SAM's ten days of events will conclude Monday, February 20, with an auction to sell the giants works of art. Those looking to get involved or learn more can visit SAM on Facebook or streetartmankind.org.

"People need to hear those numbers, and they need to hear that it's happening not only in India, Asia, Africa, or even South America, but it also happens in the United States," Decker says. "We need the art to solve the issue, to attract people, and to make sure it's not an alien topic."

Street Art for Mankind 
Friday, February 10, through Monday, February 20, at 7401 NW Miami Ct., Miami. Friday's kickoff event runs from 6 to 9 p.m. Tickets cost $20 plus fees via streetartmankind.org.

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