D.C. youth turn to art

Posted 4:00pm March 28

by Vanessa Maltin
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

Mary Brown, director of operations for Life Pieces, remembers when Maurice Kie and his brother Donnell walked through the door of Life Pieces seven years ago. Maurice was in elementary school and had such a negative attitude that he rarely spoke to anyone.

With the guidance of Life Pieces founder Larry Quick and the support of seven other boys, Maurice learned to let his emotions flow through painting.

For young men ranging in age from 3 to 21 years old Life Pieces to Masterpieces provides an environment which fosters their creativity and harnesses their frustrations towards their communities and sometimes perilous lives.

“I remember how quiet he was and it just amazes me that he is now a senior in high school and wants to go into broadcast journalism,” Brown said. “Who would have thought that such a timid child would choose such a public career?”

With 50 current apprentices in the program, young African American males living in low-income and public housing-many plagued by poverty and substance abuse-come everyday after school to work on canvas paintings, storytelling, rap, and poetry that represent their lives and emotions.

“The boys come in here with very mixed attitudes…some may have been in a school fight and be very upset by other negative daily occurrences,” said Brown. “But once they start painting they become very upbeat, energized and excited.”

Seneca Wells, a 5-year volunteer with Life Pieces, said that many of the boys show up with frowns on their faces, but are so happy once they arrive that they don’t want to go home.

To help directors assess the progress of program participants, Brown said that when students first enter Life Pieces they are asked on tape what they want to do with their lives.

“The general responses we get are a basketball player or a rap star-which most likely none of them will ever be,” Brown said. “But what is most interesting is that at the end of the program students say they want to become doctors, lawyers and social workers-you see a major change in their outlooks on life.”

Maurice’s art, along with work from some 50 other participants can be seen throughout March at the Pepco Edison Place Art Gallery in Washington, D.C.

The exhibit is funded in cooperation by the Rockefeller Philanthropic Advisors, the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the Children Youth Investment Trust Corporation, as well as many other foundations.

“We are proud of Life Pieces outstanding and exemplary work because the program provides a constructive way for young boys to express their feelings of distress, despair and hope in a nontraditional manner,” said Greg Roberts, executive director of the Children’s Youth Investment Trust Corporation. “The program has demonstrated an effective means of transforming their challenges to hope and possibilities.”

With the great success of the current exhibit, Life Pieces is working on a pilot program for the DC public schools that would integrate art programs in to classrooms and aim to broaden the scope of life for many underprivileged males.

“We are trying to offer an opportunity to show young men that being an artist is cool and masculine,” Brown said. “These boys need to believe that they can be anything they want…even the best garbage man on the block who loves his family.”

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