Melinda Chiment traveled the world doing development work but yearned to come home to San Diego and work at AjA Project. She was interested in using creativity to give disenfranchised communities more agency—something AjA does daily.
"I was just really interested in organizations—whether they're abroad or in San Diego—that are using creative intervention to address complex social issues," Chiment says. "I came across the AjA Project and was really fascinated in the way in which the team was using the arts as a platform to engage some of these issues."
After she earned her Ph.D., Chiment was hired at AjA; two years ago she became executive director. She organizes programs to help AjA Project encourage self-sufficiency in refugee and vulnerable San Diego communities through photography classes and exhibition opportunities.
AjA's newest exhibition that Chiment is overseeing is a mural in Hillcrest featuring conversations regarding homelessness. The mural's participants will include people Chiment thinks are usually voiceless in this discussion: direct service providers and the homeless.
After working with various vulnerable populations—drug addicts, teen mothers, refugees—Chiment has come to the conclusion that disadvantaged people must have tools for self-expression in order to achieve their goals. AjA can help them do this, she says.
"I believe strongly that the arts can provide a platform for self-expression," Chiment says. "There's so much harmful rhetoric being spread about certain people, certain communities, and I think by providing young people a way to reclaim their narrative that's especially important right now."