Art Show Offers Youth an Outlet for Expression
Fifty-six children and adolescents recently participated in New Jersey MENTOR’s first group home art show. Inspired by one individual’s artwork displayed throughout a group home, Tricia Gozzi, Creative Arts Therapist at New Jersey MENTOR, took the lead in creating an art exhibit to give New Jersey MENTOR’s young program participants an opportunity to proudly display as many new art pieces as possible.
“The goal was to not only to encourage our youth to tap into their creative talents and imaginations, but to display their pieces to be admired, complimented, and to build their self-esteem,” says Tricia.
Many kids were hesitant at first, so Tricia asked each group home to create a group project. This way, even if there were kids who did not want to submit individual pieces, they would still be represented in their group project and would see their work displayed at the art show. Each group home was assigned a theme that was a positive emotion or feeling, such as happiness, pride, respect, gratitude, hope, love, peace, kindness, strength, patience and trust. The kids were asked to think about what comes to mind when they hear or feel that word or emotion and then use that to create their artwork. Participants were reminded that the art was to come from their own imagination, and therefore there was no right or wrong way to create it.
Each picture was placed on different colored paper and then mounted to foam boards with the word it represents at the top. Eleven foam boards were displayed around the room. As Tricia intended, the group projects got the ball rolling and more and more individuals submitted personal works of art. Several girls wanted to express their emotions through poems, so Tricia created a board to display them. The young poets courageously read their heartfelt poems aloud to art show guests.
Tricia also created another board to display a project based on her creative arts therapy session. On the topic of World Poetry, kids responded to and finished the sentence: “If I had the power to change the world I would. . . . .” One 10-year-old boy wrote that if he had the power to change the world he would, “make the world more fun for kids with go-carts and roller coasters, would keep everyone healthy, and clean up all the trash.” A 19-year-old said that if he had the power to change the world he would, “end world hunger and pollution, would create unlimited money trees, and there would be peace and no global warming.”
The end result of the art show was everything Tricia hoped it would be and more. “The array of talent in the art pieces submitted was outstanding and beautiful,” says Tricia. “Many kids even shocked themselves by their final products. Most importantly, these kids expressed and released their emotions through art and built self-confidence and pride.”
The kids felt equally satisfied. One 15-year-old participant also found the event therapeutic. “I was happy that people didn't judge me and I could be myself,” she says. “Writing the poem for the art show released some past issues and I learned that you can express yourself through art.”
Another 15-year-old girl says, “I was able to release the pain I felt for years. I felt happy after the art show and I learned how art takes your mind off stuff.”
In total, 11 group homes were involved: 10 from specialty bed programs, serving youth in small group homes, and 1 from the Second Chance, a specialized program for at-risk youth and those involved with the juvenile justice system. Formal art deco themed invitations were created and mailed out to parents, guardians, schools, community partners, and staff at the Department of Youth and Family Services. The New Jersey MENTOR training room was transformed into a beautiful Art Exhibit with lights that bordered the ceiling and background music to set the mood.
“Tricia worked very diligently with the house managers and therapists to ensure the kids were working on their projects,” says Diana Armeno, Area Director of Specialty Services. “She hand wrote every invitation envelope that went out to the Care Managers, parents, guardians and family members to have them attend. She decorated the room in such a way that it really reflected an art gallery. She made every child feel that their submission no matter how big or small was the most important piece of art in the room. She herself was glowing as if each of these kids was her own and their art work meant something to her.”
As a result of the ongoing enthusiasm, Tricia has pledged to hold more art exhibits and make this particular show an annual event.