Freedom of Expression Featured in MLK Human Rights Hero Award

Los Angeles, CA
1 February 2007

Is artistic expression a human right?

According to President of the International Foundation for Human Rights and Tolerance, it absolutely is. So much so, that the recipient of the first annual Los Angeles County Martin Luther King, Jr., Human Rights Hero Award was Glenna Boltuch Avila, fine artist and Director of the CalArts Community Arts Partnership Program (CAP) for her work to enable inner-city youth to exercise their right to artistic expression through art education.

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states:

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

One example of Ms. Avila’s own exercise of this right is a well-known southern California landmark. For the past twenty-three years, her light-hearted mural, “L.A. Freeway Kids,” has graced the Hollywood freeway at the exit to the Museum of Contemporary Art, greeting millions of people every week as they enter downtown Los Angeles.

Ms. Avila describes CAP as a commitment “to the idea that the arts provide meaning and purpose in our lives and that there is no greater gift we can give to the youth of our country than the ability to create, to question and to critique the culture of our time.” CAP has reached more than 300,000 children in forty LA County schools with its art programs, and has awarded over a million dollars in scholarships to inner-city students.

Presenting the award to Ms. Avila was Academy-award nominated actor, Anne Archer. Ms. Archer affirmed her own dedication to human rights and artistic expression last year when she founded Artists for Human Rights with the purpose of “bringing artists together with the common cause of raising awareness of human rights around the world.”

The Human Rights Hero Awards program was announced last March by Youth for Human Rights International (YHRI) in partnership with the Human Rights Department of the Church of Scientology International, Artists for Human Rights and the International Foundation for Human Rights and Tolerance. The award, which acknowledges individuals whose work promotes or furthers one or more of the articles of the Universal Declaration, is presented to “ordinary individuals doing extraordinary things.”

Ms. Avilla and her program are far from “ordinary,” but she has certainly earned the right to the title of “Human Rights Hero.”