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Lily Yeh is an internationally celebrated artist and award-winning Founding Director of Barefoot Artists, Inc., a non-profit arts-based organization which brings the transformative power of art to the most impoverished communities in the world. Under her leadership, the organization develops projects that foster community empowerment, improve the physical environment, promote economic development, and provides training and opportunities to people to take action for a more compassionate, just and sustainable future.
Born in Kueizhou China, Yeh grew up in Taiwan where she studied traditional Chinese painting. This proved to have significant impact in her later development as an artist. Upon her graduation from the National Taiwan University in 1963, Yeh came to the United States to attend the Graduate School of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania where she received her Master Degree. In 1968, she began teaching at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia where she became professor of painting and art history. In 1998, she resigned from her tenured position in order to pursue her work in rebuilding broken communities through art and innovation.
From 1986 – 2004, Yeh was Founder, Executive and Artistic Director of the non-profit arts organization, the Village of Arts and Humanities in inner city North Philadlephia. She collaborated with neighborhood youth and adults in turning a summer art project on an abandoned lot into a vibrant and celebratory community. Under her leadership of 18 years, the Village received numerous awards that acknowledged its contribution as a national model of community building through the arts, education, construction, and land transformation.
Over the past two decades, she has conducted lectures, workshops and land transformation projects in many places in the world including China, Columbia, Ecuador, Ghana, Italy, Ivory Coast, Kenya, the Republic of Georgia, Syria, Taiwan, Haiti, and the United States.
Through her current program, the Rwanda Healing Project, Yeh has been working with the Rwandan Red Cross, engineers, scientists, health professionals, builders, and numerous volunteers to design and oversee the construction of the Rugerero Genocide Memorial and led the transformation of the Rugerero Survivors Village in West Rwanda from destitution into a place abundant in resources, vitality, and hope.
For her accomplishments, Yeh received five honorary doctoral degrees from highly-esteemed universities, the gold medal Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence from the Bruner Foundation in Cambridge, MA, the Pennsylvania Governor’s Award for Arts and Leadership, the Leadership for a Changing World Award from the Ford Foundation, and the prestigious 2009 The Academy Gold Medal of Honor from The Academy of Transdisciplinary Learning and Advanced Studies (The ATLAS).
As an artist, Yeh defines her work as creating living social sculpture that heals and brings hope to traumatized communities. Its heart is compassion, its goals, peace and a shared prosperity.