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Kids Heal Through Art

 
 


By TED HORNICK
Published: October 2007

 
   

This drawing done by an anonymus child artist is one of several pieces of artwork that is being shown at the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Photos Courtesy of Bonamy Associates.

The New Orleans Museum of Art hosts pieces from some of history’s greatest artists. Through December 31, 2007, the Museum will also display an exciting and emotional selection of images from New Orleans youth. “Katrina through the Eyes of Children” is a collection of art pieces submitted by local children who have been working with art therapists since October of 2005 to illustrate their feelings about the storm and its aftermath.

Art therapist Karla Leopold, one of the organizers of the project, describes it as the children’s “collective story.” She champions the final exhibit at NOMA as exactly what the organizers “wanted it to be.” Regarding the children and their own goals with the exhibit, she explains the healing power of the work: “they don’t talk about it [the storm] - they can’t, but they can draw about it.”

One of the children, seventeen-year-old Cheryl Potter, fondly reflected on her experiences as an artist, explaining that her work ”showed me that it takes time to make things happen... I’m a young adult

 
 
Karla Leopold, and art therapist discusses a piece of artwork with the child artist.

and I want to show people that . . . you can make an effort and stay in New Orleans.” Despite initial anticipation, Cheryl is now happy that she participated, advising others that “they should make the effort to do it if, when and how they want to.”

Leo Bonamy, a volunteer and contributing designer for the display, explains that the original exhibit was a larger and more ambitious “immersive Steven Spielberg-type production.” Time and work with the students allowed the workers to simultaneously make it more personal and profound. By expanding it into a sequence based around four stages: “Hurricane, Rescue, Relocation and Recovery,” the work was suddenly an affective way to both chronicle the storm’s aftermath and the response, acknowledging the actual suffering of a smaller demographic and their specific needs. He continues, “Art is about response and asking questions - art is about history and historical perspective. Katrina is not just a story of catastrophe.”

The art itself is a diverse combination of familiar colors and images, re-staged in ways that can be unknowingly confrontational because of their presumed simplicity. Almost everyone is familiar with the images of drowning and the storm damage, but the children’s responses are haunting in how matter-of-factly they present the tragedy. While great art is often measured in terms of both presentation and the range of responses it can elicit, this exhibit provides a new perspective and a strange encouragement to observers. The artists are helping us realize the extent of not only the hurricane’s effects, but how we can and must grow from it.

Leopold discusses the project’s success by measuring the emotional outpouring of the children in terms of the physical supplies used to make their pieces. She says, “I’ve never gone through so many markers and materials . . . to this day, it’s drawing and displaying this work that’s allowing these kids to communicate.” She summarizes the emotional impact of the whole experience with a small reflection about one of the students, a boy who told her “I know you love me because you keep coming back.” Learn more at www.katrinaexhibit.org


Katrina Through the Eyes of Children, the mixed media art exhibit created by these children becomes more important with every visit. This story must be told!

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