New Orleans area students find therapy through art
18th April 2017 ·
By Deja Dennis
Students from Arise Academy Charter School set out to heal the divide in their community with their artwork, signifying the start of National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.
The Healing Together New Orleans Art Exhibit was held at the New Orleans Healing Center on St. Claude Avenue on April 3. The Southern United Neighborhoods non-profit, also called SUN, organized the event to give middle school students the opportunity to express themselves through art, and have their work on display for the community.
Arise Academy students display their work for the Healing Together New Orleans Art Exhibit to coincide with National Crime Victim’s Rights Week.
SUN works with low-income families in the neighborhoods surrounding the Healing Center to find affordable housing and resources. Marie Hurt, the director of SUN, said the art exhibit was designed to encourage middle school students to express their feelings on crime and how communities can heal together. She believes it benefits the surrounding community when they begin to see how issues like crime and public safety affects children.
“A lot of the time, people don’t talk to the kids,” Hurt said emphasizing the importance of hearing from young people in the community.
Several local organizations joined with SUN in the event including Justice and Beyond, Affordable Healing Arts, Groundwork New Orleans, Here to Help Counseling, Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, A Community Voice, and a few others.
Beth Butler, an organizer for A Community Voice, said she contacted Arise Academy to get the students involved with Crime Victims’ Rights Week. Prior to the event, she gave the art students the topics “healing together” and “peace” to create pieces for the display.
“It’s hard for kids to communicate their experiences,” Butler said. This is how she knew that it would be best for them to speak through their artwork. She explained how it was also like therapy for the students.
“Art heals,” Butler said. She believes that children are impacted by crime greatly and the exhibit is a great way to grow art therapy. Her mission was to help students express themselves through art and for the community to see what they produced.
The person responsible for relaying the assignment to the students was Nicole Higgins, an art teacher at the academy.
“It was difficult at first,” Higgins said, “because many of the students had strong ideas, but were unsure.” Higgins counseled the students to help them gain a clear vision for their work. She said that everyone went in different directions, which resulted in very unique ideas. The kids created images depicting what it means to belong to their community and how to bring about peace.
“The kids were invested in this topic,” Higgins explained, “It really pushed them to be more creative.”
Among the young artists were Kennedi Smith, and Archanna Byrd, both 14. “I wanted people to see that we need peace in New Orleans,” Smith said about her project.
“My art shows healing overtime and how to move forward,” Byrd explained. She also said that the crime victims are not alone and that even the offenders can heal and be forgiven.
Sgt. Stephanie Minto-Gibson from the Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office, who is part of the Crime Victims Reparations Program assisting victims of all crimes, said the event highlighted the importance of victims’ rights. Last year 338 victims were helped through the crime victims program, she said. The program assists with medical and funeral expenses, as well as relocation. Minto-Gibson said she hoped the art exhibit would bring about more awareness of the program within the community. Residents can stop by the Healing Center, see the artwork, and learn about the many resources.
The New Orleans Healing Center was excited to have the students’ artwork on display. “The artwork offered the Healing Center visual representation of the youth and their feelings on healing the community,” said Brandon Curran, the event coordinator. The Healing Center offers a wide range of services including job training, physical therapy, mental health facilities, and re-entry for convicted felons as a way to help victims of crime.
“We are holistic in the way we heal,” Curran said, meaning that the community should prosper as a whole leaving no one out including the young people.
The students’ artwork will be on display in the Healing Center until the end of April. The organizers and the Healing Center hope to get more schools involved next year.
This article originally published in the April 17, 2017 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.