A Right to Art

A Right to Art features Melissa's portraits of Tanzanian children from Precious Project, a school and orphanage she visited made possible through a grant from the Umberto and Clorinda Romano Foundation. She photographed children, and introduce art-making and materials to students and teachers. 


Artistic expression is a universal human trait that each child has a right to. Yet, art education in Tanzania continues to exclude most students in the country’s school system. Lack of sufficient funding, teachers, materials, and equipment, as well as limited inclusion in the school curriculum prevents generations from being active in a creative way. 


Art is central to Tanzania’s cultural preservation and expression; the country contains some of the oldest traditions of art in the world. In local communities, ancient rock paintings are still actively used for rituals, ceremonies and healing. The strong intangible relationships between these paintings and living practices reinforce cultural, social and spiritual identity. The country, however, faces immense challenges in protecting and developing Tanzanian art. Low local access to or interest in cultural sites, economic pressures to commercialize and adapt to the needs of the international tourist market, and under-preservation of artifacts, undermine the prosperity of traditional and contemporary art practices. 

It is a tragedy that a country, or a child, not feel who they are creatively.

The enthusiasm displayed for art by the two hundred students Melissa worked with, was like watching a mesmerized infant, fascinated by his first marks on paper. Smudging with soft pastels, or pencil shavings, mixing watercolors, collaging with colorful paper, drip painting with acrylics, detailed pencil drawings, and spontaneous exploration across all media, generated wonder and delight. 


“I dance my paintbrush!” says one girl, open and unguarded in her affection for those she shares her painting experience with. And indeed she does, with the understated grace of a child’s flourishing creativity, a birthright that connects her to her country’s ancient traditions, and to those around her today. 

Our Children

Our Children, brings together portraits of rescued children by Robin Romano with those of Island children by photographer Melissa Knowles.

The common ground for this show is not the duress or the backstory, the common ground is the beauty and resilience of children. Home-Afghanistan, side by side.

Beneath the Barcode

There are 150 million children in the world working instead of going to school and living a life of freedom. Of that number, 70 million children work in what we call the worst forms of child labor - hazardous child labor that compromises the health, safety, and basic human dignity of a child.

Beneath the Barcode is a photo exhibit aimed at middle schools and high schools intended to direct attention to the impact of our economic choices on children. The exhibit examines very particular sectors of child labor found in poorer parts of the world and across the United States, and is accompanied by an interactive downloadable action kit. The exhibit examines how children factor into the production, transport, manufacturing, refining and distribution of all the things we eat, buy and use.


A curriculum on child labor, also entitled Beneath the Barcode, is currently being developed with the help of the University of Connecticut, the Renzulli Center and the Dodd Center on Human Rights. Beneath the Barcode will roll out in Connecticut high schools in the fall of 2020 and nationally in 2021.