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Claremonter supports home country through art education

On a return trip to his native country of Ghana in 2005, Claremont commissioner Opoku Acheampong found himself rendered speechless by the vast changes to the country he left behind 30 years ago. Most notable was the number of children, many handicapped, crowding the streets, begging for food and money. Many carried makeshift instruments in an attempt to elicit some spare change.

With that, Mr. Acheampong formed a plan.

Inspired by his own successes as an artist and city planner, Mr. Acheampong is giving back to the country he once called home with the formation of the Ghana Academy of Music and Art (GHAMA), the country’s first institution dedicated to art education. He hopes the nonprofit will provide Ghanaian children with opportunities currently beyond their reach.

“As an artist I saw the opportunity to share my skills in art and deep passion for music as the best way to improve quality of life,” Mr. Acheampong writes. “To offer the opportunity for a deaf child to develop skills in painting, and sculpture, and the blind child to develop skills in music making as an option.”

The idea continues to take off slowly, but 4 years after its inception, one Claremont community member is taking the leap with Mr. Acheampong. Greg McGoon, former CHS student and Claremont resident, is preparing to leave for Ghana on Friday. The 26-year-old thespian and acting coach will teach classes to the GHAMA children as well as taking part in community outreach for the new institution.

Mr. McGoon first learned of GHAMA 3 years ago through his father, local artist Doug McGoon, a good friend of Mr. Acheampong. He was immediately drawn in because of a similar arts education program he had taken part in while in college. As a part of that trip, he was selected to teach children studio and theater arts in a remote village in Thailand, near Burma.

“There was such a purity in their art,” Mr. McGoon reflected. “A lot of the supplies and materials we brought with us to the village they hadn’t had access to before. Watching them experiment with the paints and put themselves on that paper even though they didn’t necessarily know what they were doing was just incredible. I saw this joint excitement that I think sometimes in America we take for granted.”

With his additional acting expertise through the Claremont School of Theatre Arts every summer for the last 16 years—working his way up from participant to intern to assistant director—Mr. McGoon felt called to return to that experience, sharing his knowledge base with the children of Ghana. However, he was living in New York pursuing his own theatrical and artistic endeavors and the timing wasn’t right.

“Where I was in my life, it just wasn’t practical,” he said. Now he’s come to realize “I want to take the opportunity I have now while I’m still young and have the ability and flexibility.”

While GHAMA currently offers opportunities for musical and visual art, Mr. Acheampong is eager to expand the program to include theatrical endeavors as well.

“He brings a whole new facet to our team and bring us one step closer to being a solid institution,” Mr. Acheampong said, adding, “Our long-term goal is to turn GHAMA into a conservatory where the students can not only learn music and art, but learn how to dance and perform.”

Along with Mr. McGoon and his Claremont connections, Mr. Acheampong has pooled together his resources—the dean of music from his alma mater, University of the Pacific, and a famous musicologist at the University of Ghana—to make that dream a reality. The idea picked up quickly. Before he knew it musicians and artists from around the world latched onto the idea.

Though getting people to take to the concept has been relatively easy, it’s getting the resources to make the dream a reality that has been the biggest struggle. Among items on his preliminary “to do” list was achieving nonprofit status and locating a space to house the institution. Mr. Acheampong found the perfect place for GHAMA in an abandoned recreation center left behind during colonial rule. He also acquired 2 acres of land near the building.

After overcoming the challenge of finding a space, Mr. Acheampong continues to face the challenge of finding enough funding. Although a spot has been designated, there is still not enough money to renovate the building, properly outfitting it with electrical wiring, water and other essentials. Unfortunately, the building and open space remain untouched.

In the meantime, as outreach and fundraising continues, the children are being taught in separate buildings across various towns and villages. But Mr. McGoon says he is ready to weather the challenges. With a one-way plane ticket, Mr. McGoon will make his way to Ghana next week with excitement for the unknown.

“I’m really looking forward to working with the kids and finding out what their skills are and their overall sense of the arts,” Mr. McGoon said. He will take the rest as it comes. “The world has a way of working itself out.”

To find out more about GHAMA or to make a donation, visit www.ghama.org.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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