"You almost convinced me that I mattered," declared one of our artists featured in the Art of Nonviolence show at the Encore Gallery sponsored by Taos Center for the Arts/NonViolence Works. The painting is a bold, tough message from a courageous young woman.
A great deal of courage is displayed in the 30 pieces by thirty-three artists from Questa and Taos. From statements, such as "No Means No" to "I Miss the Gone Me" to "Bullying is Violent. Stop it," these young artists speak of their experiences and observations about how violence impacts them.
At the opening, a few artists were willing to talk about their work. This took great courage and self-confidence to do so in a public setting with teachers, parents and county residents in attendance. One artist revealed that after a terrible period of being bullied, she temporarily turned their words inward and bullied herself, thus she painted "Your Thoughts Can Kill You."
As we stand in front of this art, tears and painful realizations come to us. But one father in attendance noted, "Providing a safe place to express these feelings is the start of healing." And on the "reaction and comments wall" created by the TCA staff, one quote read, "The violence and lies we are being fed by our media, leaders and the military pile up in our body. Only truth can penetrate the abscess. Congratulations for cutting open the abscess."
These are all hard words to hear and read, but they represent real experiences of our youth. As adults, we have some choices about how to respond. First of all, let the skilled teachers - Jennifer Vialpando of Questa Junior-Senior High School, Christine Autumn of Taos Middle School and Katie Woodall of Taos Charter - know that you appreciate their accomplishment with their students.
They encouraged students to dig deep and provided a safe place for expression. Write in your social media resources about the courage of the students and encourage others to come and see the show, which will be up until April 1.
These teachers always need donations of art materials and funding for field trips to give students a chance to see other artists' work. Let school administrators know how much you appreciate their efforts.
From the reaction and comments wall come a number of ideas. "See something, say something, do something," was repeated several times. There were strong pleas to listen with an open heart and provide opportunities for students to talk safely. Our clinicians from NVW who work every day in the schools report that the most precious, vital gift a parent or friend can give to a youth is to be a listener, to really hear their experiences and feelings.
Repeated references were made to bullying. Teachers, administrators parents and counselors need to believe youth when they report their experiences. Only then can real intervention begin. The staff of the GRIP (Gang Resistance is Powerful) program that NVW offers in elementary and middle school report that the topic of bullying is increasingly requested above all other sessions in the curriculum.
So we have opened a dialogue with our youth about violence. What we wish for them all is a world where there is zero tolerance for any kind of violence. And so we must begin.
Come see the exhibit, make your comments on the wall, and think about donating time, materials and money to the organizations that are trying to intervene. I will be glad to forward messages and items to the teachers. Contact me at the email or number below.
We will continue the conversation about what we can all do. We can make a difference.
Nonviolence Works has the largest staff of credentialed and licensed behavioral health professionals in Northern New Mexico. Contact us at www.nonviolenceworks.us or (575) 758-4297.
Mary McPhail Gray is the Board Chair of NVW and can be reached at email@example.com or (575) 758-3126.