Museum as Sanctuary: Giving Voice to Tucson’s Refugees – Exhibition opens July 3

April 25 / 2013

The Tucson Museum of Art’s (TMA) groundbreaking Museum as Sanctuary: Giving Voice to Tucson’s Refugees exhibition opens on July 3, 2013. The exhibition will run through September 15, 2013 and is a compilation of contemporary artwork created by The Hopi Foundation’s Owl & Panther Project participants, and one collaborative piece created with the members from the Hopi and Tohono O’odham communities.

Click here for photos.

Museum as Sanctuary is curated by TMA employees Morgan Wells, Curator of Education, and Marianna Pegno, Community Programs Coordinator, and is based on their education program by the same name. Now in its third year, the Museum as Sanctuary (MAS) is a collaboration between TMA and The Hopi Foundation’s Owl & Panther Project (OP). OP works with refugee families in the Tucson area who have been impacted by torture, trauma, or traumatic dislocation. Through this program, participants have become more expressive as they become more comfortable in gallery spaces.

“The dark canvas is my favorite. Because, it’s like my life. After the war my life has many things dark, bad, difficult,” Nada, a refugee from Iraq said. “While at the Museum I have learned to speak English a little better, and I like that there is sharing among everyone.”

“For me, the most important thing about this exhibition is providing an opportunity for these voices to be heard,” said Pegno. “It gives these families a space where they can speak for themselves.”

Increased confidence in the galleries carries beyond the TMA’s walls, resulting in more comprehensive and nuanced discussion that would not have happened otherwise. Participants of the program come from countries all around the world such as Iraq, Bhutan, Nepal, Somalia, Ethiopia, Congo, and Iraq. Through modes of collaboration and co-creation, MAS has worked to create meaningful and personalized museum experiences for historically underserved populations.


  • In 2001, a total of 34,616 refugees had been resettled in Arizona (an average of 1,650 refugees/year from 1980-2001).
  • In 2011, there were a total of 60,490 refugees, an increase of 25,874 or 42.8% (an average of 2,600 refugees/year from 2001-2011).
  • From 2001 to 2011 there was a 42% increase in refugees being resettled in Arizona compared with the two previous decades (1981 – 2001).

“Our hope is that this project will promote individual and communal healing through the arts and foster greater connections for the refugees to their new home in southern Arizona.” said Wells. “We want to bring greater social awareness and cultural sensitivity to our community.”

Museum as Sanctuary will feature self-portraits, photographs, sculpture, drawings, landscapes, collaborative story-telling paintings and illustrations, and place and nature inspired tiles.




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