On October 30, 2019 I felt I made significant inroads on Hold Up Hold On!, a community art mural project centered on youth resilience and mental health awareness. See the HUHO! page for details.
It has been three years since I was a full-time teaching artist in after school programs, so I am getting up to speed in a hurry on student engagement, which has become even more challenging. I initially hoped for a single, well attended event where we gathered photographs and text — but we got no takers even though we (my creative female team of a high school and Berea College student) distributed postcards and did an informational tabling outside of the cafeteria. But I don’t give up easy, if at all.
Yesterday I was invited into an art classroom to talk to kids face to face, and pitch the project. As always, it was satisfying and stunning to see how some reacted. And we got a participant in the afternoon who helped us brainstorm and update our mural composition. Read more about the experience in the blog!
In February 2019, I met with two high school girls and a Mom, and over art making talked about the mental health crisis at a local high school. This led to a brainstorming session about a collaborative community mural project involving at-risk girls, a contact with the dedicated therapist at one of the high schools, and a swiftly researched and written Art Meets Activism Grant to the Kentucky Foundation for Women. See the description here. Yup. I got the grant.
Writing the grant was scary though. The last time I got an AMA grant was in 2015-2016, and I was never able to produce a finished product from it. Owen Carl Chaney, lost to suicide on 8/22/2016, helped me with the project, was in many documentary photographs of the project, which also involved at-risk youth, and I just could not face the raw material while feeling so raw myself. For the first time in my artistic life, I felt paralyzed, blocked.
The KFW was extremely understanding about this. They gave me two extensions, and a retreat at Hopscotch House, hoping to help. It didn’t. To this day, when I think of that raw material, hours and hours of interviews of elder women and young girls and the projects we did together with Owen at my side, my throat still closes in panic.
I was truthful about the situation with my teenage artist partners. I warned them I might not get the new grant because of my failure to follow through on the last one. But not only did I get the grant, $3280 to engage teenage girls from Berea high schools in a public mural project focused on youth mental health and based on photographs of their hands holding objects that help them feel safe, secure and empowered. I got the best acceptance letter ever, full of compliments and encouragement. My hands shook as I opened the envelope. Then I read the contents and cried.
Since that Sunday morning early in June I have been able to do additional, formerly unthinkable things. I reached out to the new volunteer coordinator at the homeless shelter where I met and made art with Owen and offered to help her get our yard mural touched up and finally finished. I also attended a mural festival in Harlan, Kentucky, where I worked on a wall for the first time since before Owen died. I cannot describe the joy I felt when my body and mind effortlessly remembered how to do this, and remembered doing it with Owen.
So I want to thank the Kentucky Foundation for Women from the bottom of my aching, singing heart for this healing, growing, opportunity.
I am once again partnering with Upward Bound at Eastern Kentucky University to facilitate helpful and team building art projects with youth. I have several returners, pictured here, from last year. Youth enrolled in my class are both driving and creating the panel designs as a group, using words and images that relate to Resilience — the theme of our multi-paneled mural.
But as always I started with a visual ice-breaker of sorts, from an idea I borrowed from an amazing photography project in which an artist interviewed homeless and photographed them holding a cardboard sign that educated the public about how the homeless are just like us — former dancers, businessmen, professionals. Instead, I had UB kidz write something about themselves that isn’t obvious to someone who doesn’t know them well. The answers were funny, touching, and sad.
This is just a sampling of the mural projects I facilitated and worked on with under-represented and marginal artists between 2013 and 2016. And there’s more to come!!!
I am thrilled to announce that I will be facilitating another public mural project after a three year hiatus, and it will involve young women and girls and focus on mental health awareness. More to come as the grant announcement is released!!
I took three hours out of my busy AmeriCorps Program Director work day to participate in this panel presentation on art and healing. I was one of three writer/artists to participate, although I have twenty academic years under my belt as well and could easily have worn that hat — but I am glad I didn’t. I find so much more meaning in telling my own story (as egoistic as this may sound) because my story is also the story of the underserved by art individuals I have been able to help through offering them opportunities to visually tell their own.
The artists present were invited to bring samples of our artwork, and I automatically chose the healing artworks I created between 2009 and 2013 that helped me by illustrating my misery, my grief and finally my ability to celebrate my transition from traditional college art professor to teaching artist to the underserved and during a time when many painful memories and truths were being revealed. As a result I will most likely be showing that series of artworks for the first time at a local Richmond, KY gallery — and won’t that be empowering!
Many thanks to Melinda Moore, psychology professor and leader of the Survivors of Suicide group at EKU for inviting me to speak and share my healing through art story.