In our Freedom Q&A series, we interview artists, NGO leaders, academics, students, grassroots activists and others around the world who are using their voices and creative skills to fight human trafficking.

This week, we hear from WILLIAM ADAIR, Founders of Gold Leaf Studios and ArtWorks for Freedom Contributing Artist. 

ArtWorks for Freedom contributing artist WILLIAM ADAIR is an award-winning frame conservator, frame historian and master gilder who lends his passion for the ancient craft of gilding to the fight against human trafficking. Adair has joined ArtWorks for Freedom in leading our newest initiative, the Golden Doors to Freedom – a participatory art project where people are invited to write, stencil, draw, scratch, burnish and embellish doors adorned with gold leaf with messages reflecting their thoughts, experiences or emotions related to human trafficking. The finished doors become a powerful visual representation of participants’ commitment to end human trafficking.

The Golden Doors to Freedom initiative debuted this month, first at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, KY, held March 31-April 2, where we partnered with Truckers against Trafficking to offer members of the trucking industry a way to express their reactions to learning about the realities of human trafficking along the nation’s highways.  ArtWorks also featured the Golden Doors to Freedom as part of our partnership with the 4W Initiative’s STREETS (Social Transformation to End Exploitation and Trafficking for Sex) Project at University of Wisconsin-Madison. During the month-long campaign, two new Golden Doors were created — one by UW students  inscribed  with messages of encouragement and solidarity, and one by clients of Project Respect, whose messages illustrate their courage and resilience. Both doors in Wisconsin were provided pro bono by Crescent Moon Antiques & Salvage with Gold leaf provided courtesy of Sepp Leaf Products.

For William Adair, applying his passion for gilding to fighting human trafficking has brought a renewed energy to his own work, which he hopes will only increase as a result of working with ArtWorks. In our Freedom Q&A, we asked Adair about the initiative, why he decided to work with ArtWorks and how Golden Doors to Freedom can help in the anti-trafficking movement. Here’s what he had to say.

How did you learn about ArtWorks for Freedom and why did you decide to lend your art to this cause of ending human trafficking?

I’ve been a long-time colleague of Kay [Chernush]. I met her in 1984 and followed her career. She’s photographed our work throughout the years. She brought me a postcard about ArtWorks and the human trafficking projects she’d been involved with and I thought that it would be a good project to help with because art, for me, has always been an important part of social change. I have a project where I gild doors and people write on them, and I thought this would be a useful vehicle for ArtWorks for Freedom to draw attention to human trafficking.

After launching the Golden Doors to Freedom initiative in Louisville and Wisconsin this month, what do you think this specific project brings to the anti-trafficking movement?

It brings a sense of healing for some of the survivors. It gives them a sense of hope. It also seems that it has accomplished what it set out to in the beginning, which is to be a community bulletin board for people to express their ideas collectively. One statement begets another and another.

The trucker’s convention in Louisville was especially moving when the head of the Office of Child Abuse in the Attorney General’s office came and said that they’d been fighting this for a long time. And people who had personal experiences with it would come and write things down. It was all very positive.

Is there something unique about the process of working with the gold leaf that you think is particularly powerful for this topic?

Gold represents something valuable. That’s what everyone responds to. They pick up the gold and they are amazed at how difficult it is to work with, how thin it is, but also how immutable it is—gold doesn’t corrode. It’s a compelling material because of the mythology surrounding it. It attracts just about everybody…everybody wants to have a piece of gold.

How have people responded to participating in Golden Doors to Freedom so far? What interesting reactions from people have you seen or heard?

In Louisville, while we were at the trucker’s convention, people would funnel through the Truckers Against Trafficking exhibit and learn the facts about human trafficking, then they would come out to our Golden Door to Freedom project and express themselves in profound ways. One guy came up and sort of stared at the door for a long time. He kind of looked at me and said, “Man this is awesome. I have a 13-year old daughter and I hope this never happens to her.”

In Wisconsin, one survivor came in with her son and wrote, “Behind this door is hope.” That was pretty nice to see her and her son working together. He started drawing different comic strips that he liked on the door. The interaction between the mother and son was quite moving.

Do you think the Golden Doors to Freedom brings something unique to the fight against human trafficking?

Oh yes, absolutely. Art can heal. Art can be a vehicle for social change, hopefully for the better. I’ve never seen people stare at artwork like they do this. People always want to come up and take their photograph with the door, so it has the potential to go exponentially using social media and make a difference.

Since working on this project, have you learned anything new about yourself or your approach to your art?

I’m really humbled by how powerful the idea is. Being humbled is a good quality for an artist because you’re in front of a canvas and you think everybody is going to buy your work and rush to it because you’re a genius, [but] that doesn’t happen a lot of times. The Golden Doors to Freedom initiative has made me want to do bigger and better things and improve each time I do a project. Hopefully I’ll be improving on my own doors as a result of working with ArtWorks for Freedom.

To learn more about out William Adair’s work, visit Gold Leaf Studios online.