By Janis Hashe
Leva Zand is not an artist.
But the healing, unifying power of the arts has always been obvious to her. The struggles and trauma her family experienced in their refugee journey from Iran in 2004, when she was 23, were far from unique, she knew. What refugees miss more than anything, she realized, was the sense of connection and community they’d had in their homelands. Her family belongs to the Baha’i faith, which considers art “a gift of the holy spirit.”
THE FLEDGLING NONPROFIT ARTOGETHER, FOUNDED BY LEVA ZAND,
PROVIDES ART AND CRAFT CLASSES FOR REFUGEES AND IS GROWING QUICKLY.
The Baha’i have been persecuted in Iran since the 1979 revolution, said Zand, eventually motivating her family to leave their homeland. After her family’s flight, they settled in Sacramento. Zand received her bachelor’s degree in sociology from Sacramento State, and her master’s in feminist studies from UC Santa Barbara, then began working back east, first in Washington, D.C. In 2015, she resettled in the East Bay, but continued to work for the Boston’ Nonviolent Initiative for Democracy, where she helped create an online school for women in rural Iran who wanted to become involved in politics.
“The 2016 election was a turning point for me,” Zand said. “I first experienced a kind of unfamiliar rage.” The Women’s March of that year was both a “beam of hope,” and an inspiration to do something constructive, “something joyful” within the community. She realized she could use her own experiences of trauma and being uprooted to reach the wider refugee population. So in April 2017, quitting her job and using her own savings, she founded nonprofit ARTogether.