It was in the aftermath of a gut-wrenching divorce when it finally clicked for Mary-Mitchell Campbell. Suspecting she was too self-absorbed, she left for India on a four-month sojourn, volunteering at an orphanage for girls with disabilities. It was this life-changing experience that inspired the successful Broadway conductor to create Artists Striving To End Poverty (ASTEP), an organization that effects social change through the arts.
“When I was there [in India] I developed a reality check,” Mary-Mitchell says. “I realized that I was responsible for what I had learned, and I was going to end up changing things to match that responsibility.”
Through the magic of poetry, song, dance and the visual arts, volunteer ASTEP artists, largely found by word-of mouth or by asteponline.org, travel to places like India, Africa and the Philippines, teaching health education and life skills to impoverished children.
“We aren’t using the arts to make [the children] artists per se,” she says. “We are using the arts to help them think like artists—to be innovative in their ways of problem solving.”
For example, a song might be inspired by a classic Broadway melody, but it teaches the children all the details of HIV—and how to protect themselves.
Mary-Mitchell says her months in the orphanage not only spawned ASTEP but helped redefine who she is. The organization’s latest initiative is an annual young people’s conference to address issues such as the environment and poverty—and how the arts can bring about change.