Tegan Bukowski, AB ’10, exudes enthusiasm; words spill out of her so rapidly it’s hard to keep up. That energy, along with her inventiveness and compassion, led her to found Artists Activists (www.artistsactivists.org), which helps artists and others share their talents with youth around the world. Since its inception in 2011, the nonprofit has sponsored photography, art and architecture workshops and started a radio school, among other endeavors, in places including Turkey, Kenya and Haiti.
Bukowski’s childhood was unconventional. She spent her first seven years on a farm in Phoenix, “living like a farm girl and then walking down the street [into] complete urban Phoenix in every direction,” she says. At her request, when she was 9, she and her mother moved onto a boat. She credits her parents for “giving all my ideas real consideration” and developing her sense of confidence and autonomy. They lived on Puget Sound while Bukowski attended school. “In their own ways, [both living experiences] were pretty awesome,” she says. “I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”
After high school, Bukowski spent a year at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Though the school developed her “sense of discipline and perseverance,” she transferred to Washington University to focus on her creative side. She was attracted not only to the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts’ reputation but also to the university’s outward focus. “The alumni I meet have such big hearts for others, and I think that’s unique to Wash. U.,” she says.
Bukowski double-majored in architecture and environmental studies. Volunteerism became increasingly important to her as well, starting with an initiative that partnered Washington University with Tufts University’s Institute for Global Leadership and the Air Force Academy, performing an energy audit of a Rwandan orphanage. When two fellow participants put together a peace-mapping project in Kenya, Bukowski served as media manager.
From there, things snowballed. In Kenya, Bukowski, an accomplished programmer, rebuilt the website for an orphanage. That put her in contact with Ron Garan, an astronaut who needed assistance building a website for his nonprofit, Fragile Oasis.
By the time Bukowski graduated, as Outstanding Student in Architecture, and began graduate studies at Yale, those in her expanded social circle — especially in creative fields — were asking for help finding volunteer opportunities. She founded Artists Activists to connect them to projects in need of their unique skill sets. Among others, fellow alumni Seth Kaplan, BFA ’10, and Stephanie Dusek, AB ’11, have volunteered with the group, teaching art and photography, and ESL, respectively, in Colombia.
Bukowski also has been an active participant, teaching photography in Haiti and Kenya with her Yale classmate, close friend and de facto business partner, Yasemin Tarhan. Their current project is rebuilding a Haitian orphanage, Diakonos, which is situated in a semi-destroyed structure and can house only around 25 orphans. The new building will “feel more like a home and accommodate up to 75 or 80 kids,” she says. Bukowski is doing a research project on the Haitian wood industry, “trying to see if new technologies … can accommodate more wood and timber construction as part of the reconstructive effort. Hopefully this orphanage will act as a way to see whether this entire wood technology idea will pan out.”
Though plans are preliminary, after graduation she hopes to develop “a sustainable way to do pro-bono design work while also doing high-end design work.” She wants “there to be an Artists Activists component to my life as a grown-up,” she says, but doesn’t necessarily need to be at its helm. “There are program directors so closely integrated into the nonprofit at this point that it is not contingent on my running it,” she says. However, she notes, she doesn’t graduate until May. “So, who knows?”
Beth Herstein, AB ’83, is a freelance writer based out of New York City.