Cross-Cultural Art Collaboration Between Local and Kenyan Artists


June 24, 2021
For immediate release
Media contact: Cara Scarola Hansen
Kijana Public Relations Counsel

Cross-Cultural Art Collaboration Between Local and Kenyan Artists

Local graphic artist/illustrator Claire Salmon has put her beauty mark on a school across the globe through a cross-cultural collaboration with painter Jesse Otukho from Western Kenya. 

Commissioned by visionary Jim Cummings, co-founder and president of Kijana Educational Empowerment Initiative, Salmon has researched and designed more than 20 murals that have been painted by Otukho into large masterpieces on the walls throughout the newly built Kijana Global Innovation School (KGIS) which currently serves students pre-primary through sixth grade. These “talking walls” depict Kenyan wildlife, the oceans, the rainforest, national parks of Africa, birds of Africa, Earth, and biomes. They cover a range of educational themes from the basics of the color spectrum and identification of animals and plants to conservation, geography, and climate change.  

The final product of each mural is cultivated through the exchange of ideas spanning the U.S. and multiple continents–fulfilling Kijana’s mission to promote and cultivate youth empowerment through educational development and cross-cultural dialogue. The mural development process starts with Cummings envisioning the idea and identifying the location for the artwork. He brainstorms with historians, scientists, and educators, and then shares his vision with Salmon. Salmon collects resource images to ensure that these educational pieces are as accurate as possible. After she constructs the composition to match the dimension of the wall to be covered, she draws the sketch on her tablet and then passes the illustration to Otukho who paints the final masterpiece. 

Art is essential to the Kijana Global Innovation School curriculum. Numerous studies show that students who are involved in the arts, visual and dramatic, perform better academically.  

“When Jim had the idea to make the arts such a central part of the school, all those empty walls became perfect canvases,” stated Salmon.

Cummings, a teacher and educational non-profit leader for close to 30 years in schools throughout the U.S. and in Kenya, believes in a holistic vision: “Traditional curriculums are not that valuable if they don’t encourage us to make life more creative and lively. School is not about preparing for a job. It is about preparation for life. Those who have the best skills in creativity often make the most productive and successful people economically.” 

The murals are permanent and will now be seen day after day, week after week, and year after year. The KGIS teachers are using the artwork to connect concepts that are being taught in class. Additionally, they educate visitors and “will inspire other schools to commission artists to do similar things,” hopes Cummings. 

In addition to art being central to the students’ education, Cummings also values aesthetics. “I think schools should be beautiful places. We should aim to make our schools as beautiful as our churches. If students are seeing educational concepts designed in attractive ways, it opens their minds to new things in settings outside the classroom.” 

Although Salmon has yet to see the final product of her and Otukho’s cross-cultural and cross-continental collaboration, she will visit Kenya this July to see firsthand the impact she’s having in Kenya. “It couldn’t be more inspiring or humbling to have my art up at Kijana, to see the kids smiling, and to be working with Jesse. I cannot name a more fulfilling moment in my career as an artist.”

About Claire Salmon
Born and raised in The Acreage, Salmon attended the Dreyfoos School of the Arts before graduating from Florida State University’s film school for screenwriting. She is president of the local nonprofit BAM Festival Inc., a convention for books, art, and music for children and teens to promote literacy.

About Kijana Educational Empowerment Initiative
Kijana Educational Empowerment Initiative is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that promotes and cultivates youth empowerment through educational development, cross-cultural dialogue, and sustainable and environmentally friendly economic growth, among under-served Kenyan school communities and American school communities. Kijana has served a pivotal role in transforming education in Western Kenya. With hundreds of thousands of dollars of investments, Kijana altered the educational trajectory and raised expectations of citizens by investing in over 30 schools countrywide. Kijana is currently in the process of building a modern pre-k through 12th-grade independent school, Kijana Global Innovation School (KGIS), to serve primarily average-income and highly-talented Kenyan youth and infuse new options in our global educational capacity. KGIS opened its doors in January 2020 with 15 students and one block of administrative offices and classrooms for pre-k through second grades. Today, enrollment is around 84 students and climbing, serving pre-k through sixth-grade classes. KGIS will graduate its first high school class in 2026. For more information or to provide financial support, visit: