Department: Fine Arts School: College of Arts and Sciences Campus: Manhattan
Member of NYIT Since: 2006
When disaster struck Japan on March 11, 2011, Yuko Oda, assistant professor of fine arts at NYIT-Manhattan, wasted no time mobilizing the Japanese art community in New York City. For Oda, who experienced earthquakes while growing up in Kanagawa Prefecture near Tokyo, the 8.9-magnitude earthquake that unleashed a 30-foot tsunami on Japan's shores was unlike anything she had ever seen.
In the days that followed, she spoke regularly to her parents, who still live in Kanagawa. Though lucky to be safe at home, they struggle with frequent blackouts, food shortages, mile-long gas lines, and aftershocks of earthquake proportions-all-too-frequent reminders of the recent tragedy.
Oda coped by gathering with Japanese artist friends who shared her gumption for taking action. "As artists, we thought about doing a fundraiser because Japan needs help now," she says. "That was the seed of the idea."
That idea took shape as a small-works art fundraiser of pieces priced at $100 to $200. An initial roster of 20 artists grew to more than 100 in the two weeks following the earthquake, with some donating large pieces worth up to $10,000. As the news from Japan worsened, Oda and her friends worked harder.
"Doing this was the one thing that kept me sane and made me feel I could channel my energy for something positive," she says.
Their efforts coalesced in the "We Are One" exhibition at Gallery 61 on April 11 at NYIT-Manhattan, an art benefit that netted $17,203. Four hours into the event, works by 109 artists had sold out. Oda and seven event organizers presented more than $16,000 that came from the art sales to the Japan Society Earthquake Fund, which distributed all of the money quickly to small nonprofits, while $1,141 collected in donation boxes went to the Japan Red Cross.
"The benefit was a great fusion of people coming together and working together," says Oda, who credits NYIT's faculty, staff, and 40 student-volunteers for contributing to the event's success.
"It was such an amazing gift that NYIT gave us the space to do this in a short amount of time," she says.
Oda's art at the exhibition portrayed her reaction to the earthquake. Her work, "Red Sky," depicts a flock of crimson butterflies. In Japanese culture, one butterfly signifies a spirit, while butterflies en masse are considered ominous. She says this predilection for post-apocalyptic art is common among Japanese artists.
Though she relishes the success of her first fundraiser and the international recognition it has brought in four Japanese newspapers, including The Japan Times and The Mainichi Daily News, Oda believes more needs to be done. She will support the Tsuru (Crane) Project, an origami workshop and fundraiser for the Japan Society, and her art will appear in the "Dear Japan" art benefit in the exhibition space run by Art Connects New York on June 4.
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