Forest Area Schools Welcome United Nations Arts Ambassador from Nigeria


On February 1 & 2, the Forest Area Schools had a unique and amazing visitor from the African country of Nigeria.  Mr. Ibiyinka Alao, “Ibi” as he likes to be called, an United Nations Arts Ambassador visited both West and East Forest schools and held painting, writing, dance drama and singing workshops about fireflies for all the students, Pre-K through 12th grade.  The Pennsylvania Firefly Festival (PAFF), Forest Area Arts Council, Marienville & Tionesta Lions clubs and the West Forest Elementary Yearbook committee sponsored the residency so that the students could have this unique experience and hear Ibi’s inspirational messages.

Ibi spoke to the High School Classes each morning about cultural differences, his experiences learning English, how he became an artist, the mystery hidden in his paintings and how he expresses himself in his art when it’s hard to speak.  He used the analogy of an oyster and a pearl, to illustrate how students can deal with life’s irritations through love and forgiveness.  With his disarming charm and humor, he led the students to paint a landscape of a road leading to the light or their futures.  Some students wrote descriptions, poems and interpretive messages about their paintings.

In the afternoons, Ibi spoke with the Elementary students about fireflies and how he learned life lessons as a child when catching and releasing fireflies in the bush of Nigeria.  The Pre-K through Third graders learned to use 4 colors, yellow, orange, red and black to create a stylized painting of a Calabash (an African bowl made from a gourd).  The 4th through 6th grade painted a village scene.  The students learned about how… “when you love something, like fireflies… you need to let them go… be free” … so, “they can become the stars they are meant to be in your life.”

Each evening, volunteers from the Forest Area Arts council, PAFF and the schools set up an impromptu art gallery to display the 100s of paintings by the students from the workshops.  Many of the kids came back to their school that night to show off their own work to their families and the community and perform a “firefly dance” on stage.  PAFF hopes to publish a picture book with some of the paintings and writings for a future fundraiser, to benefit the educational mission of PAFF.

Ibi spoke to the audiences each evening about his paintings, inspirations and experiences that made him into an award-winning artist, film maker and firefly lover.   “Ibi’s Fireflies” story is being adapted into an animated film featuring his original paintings and music with the help of some big names like director/producer, Tim Burton and cinematographer, Derek Frey. Ibi’s messages of hope, faith and love have resonated well beyond our expectations, and he promises to come back soon to see the Fireflies in the Forest.

For more information about Ibi, you can find him on Facebook, or  For more information about PA Firefly Festival go to