Elephants are the glue that holds the universe together. No, really.
I love my life, I really do. Its taken 53 years to find a career that fills my spirit, makes the world a better place and keeps me on my creative toes. Arte for Elephants does that and more.
Arte for Elephants (AFE) has been around since 2015 and has gone through several shifts and adjustments as most businesses do, until it (and we) morphed into our current iteration. Traveling the US state-by-state, mile-by-mile, in our RV, setting up our booth at art, vegan and craft fairs around the US, selling art and sharing stories of captive elephants.
We are about 10 months in and we feel like we’ve seen it all- drowned in California, baked alive in Nevada, boiled in Texas, nearly killed in a 70 MPH wind gust that destroyed our canopy in Arizona. Shows with no customers, customer’s with no money, screaming trains, mosquitos, blasting karaoke competitions and we are just getting started!
Is the work hard? Oh you better believe it, harder than anything I have ever done in my entire life. It’s physically and mentally demanding. Ask anyone who works with the public, and they’ll tell you, people say the weirdest things. I’ve had people accuse me of pretending to be a charity (every single piece of documentation we give out clearly states we are a business that donates a portion of every sale to charity), insult my art work (“if you have to look at a picture, your not very good”), spill red wine all over our table, and the best one, the creepy guy who tried to buy my art pencils (hint: they aren’t for sale) and when he couldn’t get one, he tried to steal them!
Why on earth would people want to put themselves through this week after week and mile after mile, and why can’t I envision doing anything else with my life?
Of course it’s elephants! The discomfort, long hours and insults we endure are a drop in the bucket to a captive elephant that has seen the crush (captivity breaking) ceremony or been forced to lug tourists up and down blazing hot hills in India for 12 hours at a stretch. More than that, it’s the people.
Yep you read that right, the people. The thousands of men, women and children of all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, incomes, lifestyles and yes, faiths and even political beliefs that stop by our booth and turn to gurgling fountains of love mush describing how much they adore elephants, who break down crying remembering their beloved grandma who “collected” elephants. Before we started doing this, I had no idea how many people around the globe collect elephant stuff. Don’t even get me started on the number of folks with elephant tattoos!
I am no expert, but our society seems utterly broken. Our two sides are polarized beyond any point of compromise. Hatred is the word of the day, online, in political discourse, in classrooms, in households. We seem to be at each other’s throats, one incendiary news story away from erupting into some kind of civil chaos. Hopefully I am wrong, but when even the most banal, what they used to call “feel good” stories are met with scorn, snark and in some cases, calls for violence, it’s hard not to feel like we are running headlong into some unthinkable abyss.
But when I sit, day after day, in community after community, in my hot, cramped little booth drawing elephant’s, what do I see? I see love. Just love.
I see the Air Force soldier with the red, “Make America Great Again” cap on 4th of July, vowing to never ride an elephant and planning a humane tourism trip with his wife. I see the LGBT couple with purple hair, telling me how much elephants mean to them and how they plan to design their nursery with elephants. I see small town people, faces glowing from their church service, tell me how elephants are “God’s creatures” and asking, “how can anyone kill them?” Leather clad bikers have stood, spellbound, listening in horror, as I tell them about the plight of captive elephants in South America. I have seen people in very poor communities buy something with their last dollar and ask me to “use it for the elephants”. They always follow it up with “I wish I could do more.”
We have even had homeless people stop by our booth and share with glowing eyes, their love of elephants. Everyone loves elephants.
It’s that kind of sky-high, universal, all encompassing love that manages to cut through these darkest of times. What do these people get out of loving elephants? Do they make money? Does it increase their community standing? Not so far as I can tell. They just love them, simply, honestly and with their whole human heart.
It’s hard not to look into these people’s eyes and not catch, just a glimmer, of hope for mankind.
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