A prominent sculpture near the Miracle Mile in San Rafael is commemorating the 40th anniversary of a Marin-based student-exchange program.

Tom and Lilka Areton founded Cultural Homestay International, or CHI, in 1980 and have grown the organization into one of the largest exchange programs in the world.

“We’re like San Rafael’s hidden secret,” Tom Areton said. But he said the new sculpture, installed late last month in front of the CHI offices, is turning heads and bringing new attention to the organization locally.

“People keep stopping by and taking pictures,” he said. “We put some benches there, and we want people to come sit and contemplate the world.”

A giant globe made of stainless steel sits at the top of the 12-foot-tall sculpture, which is the creation of Fairfax artist Susan Pascal Beran. The globe is ringed by images of flags from 60 countries, and inside it are colorful, miniature houses and figures holding hands.

Areton, who commissioned the piece and designed an early sketch of what it would look like, said the imagery represents a collision of cultures from around the world. That’s what CHI promotes through its programs, he said, which bring thousands of foreign students to American soils each year.

The couple started the program at their kitchen table and ran it from their San Anselmo home for the better part of four decades. In 2017, they moved the organization’s headquarters into an office building they bought at 255 West End Ave., which runs parallel to the Miracle Mile.

The Aretons are also the force behind San Rafael’s Museum of International Propaganda, which opened at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Court Street in 2016.

Pascal Beran, whose sculptures are on display at locations around the country, is a member of CHI’s board of directors. The piece, which took a year to build, was “a labor of love and vision,” she said.

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