DSF Scholar Creates Community Through Art

DSF Scholar Ellen Kaufman with Nathan Cadena, chief operating officer, and Michelle Camacho Liu, director of college success.

For DSF Scholar Ellen Kaufman, the inspiration to create art is rooted in her family’s history. By breaking down big concepts like cultural awareness with acrylics, pencils, and clay, Ellen aims to help her audience dig deeper with every piece she creates.

“When I get into the zone and stop thinking, there is an energy driving my art,” Ellen says. “If I am at a place of peace or happiness, my hands will start tingling with ideas to bring to life.”

Ellen draws inspiration from her family’s cultural background to spark her creative vision. One of her favorite creations, “Aspens vs. Birches,” illustrates the juxtaposition between where her family comes from and where she is now. To create the piece, Ellen used gzhel, a Russian style of blue and white ceramics to pay homage to her heritage.

“My mom would look at the aspen trees here in Colorado, and she would comment on how much they looked like the birch trees in Belarus. They reminded her of home,” Ellen explains.

After emigrating from communist Belarus as refugees, Ellen’s parents faced many challenges in the United States, where their college degrees were not recognized as valid credentials. While her parents encouraged Ellen and her two sisters to pursue a college education, they struggled to navigate unfamiliar obstacles to college in the United States.

“Since we are Jewish, my parents were not treated the same in their home country,” Ellen shares. “My mom says she wanted us to have freedom. When my parents arrived in the United States, they could not have the jobs they wanted to have. This motivated me to make the most of the opportunities in front of me.”

After learning about the DSF Scholarship from her sister Tanya, Ellen followed suit to become the second of three DSF Scholars in her family. Ellen says the DSF Scholarship played a key role in helping to make college financially possible for her and her sisters, but the support that DSF has provided throughout her college experience has proven invaluable.

“The support network that DSF provides to Scholars reminds me where I came from,” Ellen says. “With all of the opportunities that DSF offers—from helping me to develop as a leader through the Scholar Institute, to inviting Scholars to events—I am reminded that there are people rooting for me.”

Ellen says the DSF network helps drive the success of immigrant and first generation American students in particular.

“Coming from an immigrant or first generation American community, we are taught to be thankful for what we already have. When DSF Scholars get together, it creates a feeling of, ‘you come from Denver too, and you get it. You needed this scholarship too, and you get it.’ DSF has taught me to advocate for myself, and that I deserve to be here. When I became aware of that, I ended up doing so much more,” Ellen reflects.

Practicing self-advocacy has allowed Ellen to flourish in college. Seeing an opportunity to create a space for community art at DU, Ellen joined forces with a friend to plan an art show on campus. With the support of professors and student government, Ellen’s art show, titled “Diasporic Consciousness: awareness of one’s origins and roots,” took place in March of this year.

Featuring 10 artists and bringing in over 80 attendees, Ellen says the show not only helped increase the accessibility of art and expression on campus, but also confirmed the value of college as a place to explore new possibilities and gain connections.

“In college, I’ve been able to surround myself with people whose energy can feed mine. By advocating for my education and myself, I have pushed myself in ways that I would not have been able to otherwise.”

Check out Ellen’s work on Instagram here.