During the May 3 exhibit reception for “Residence and Refuge,” however, any obstacles the young artists faced outside the gallery faded away for the evening.
“Someone was saying you could walk into it and right up into the sky,” Sarah Murphy said to Kysha’s sister Ashealla, 13, pointing at a large print across the gallery.
Through an Advancing the Arts grant awarded by the Arts Council of the Valley, Murphy and fellow workshop teacher Kayla Runion gave youths — ranging from 7 to 14 years old — pens, disposable cameras and the tools necessary to see their lives through a different lens.
The show will be up throughout May, with “Residence and Refuge” books available for purchase at the Smith House and on Amazon.
Life Worthy Of Art
At Mercy House, a nonprofit organization offering housing and assistance while residents get back on their feet, one third of the families are one paycheck away from homelessness, according to Murphy. “That’s a scary statistic,” she said. “The edge is closer than you think.”
Since an after-school program was already in place there, using the Advancing the Arts grant seemed like a worthy fit, she said.
Over the course of five weeks, the group gathered twice weekly to learn photography technique from Murphy and creative writing from Runion.
“The most amazing theme that emerged was the documentation of daily life,” Runion said: a sister’s pregnant stomach, sidewalks, a dog peering over a chain link fence, shoes dangling from a telephone wire.
“They’re normal kids,” added Murphy. “Lots of pop culture references … they long for pets … Family is really important to them, they fight with each other, but they are also fiercely protective of one another.”
Shelter In Art
“What did you think of the show?” Ragan McManus, ACV executive director asked Kysha during the opening.
“What show?” Kysha giggled with her sisters.
“Your show, that’s hanging up out there!”
“Oh that show!”
Not having seen the exhibit before it went up, Kysha said she and the girls were surprised by its impact.
Validation and self-worth, Runion said, are the themes learned between the lines. “I’ve seen the students take more pride in their lives … their lives are important enough to be in a photograph, written out on paper, talked about and seen.”
The “importance of telling every story,” Runion said, “no matter how seemingly marginalized,” is a lesson the artists, as well as onlookers, can take away from “Residence and Refuge.”
Though viewers from the outside may never have to experience life on these student’s side of the camera, they’re shown the “beauty and importance of the kids’ lives as well,” she said.
“Writing and art gave me a shelter during a turbulent childhood, and I wanted to give that safety and stability to a group of kids; to show them how I learned to express myself and adapt to the world at large in a positive way,” said Murphy. “I believe the arts foster resiliency.”
For more information on the show, or how to purchase books, contact the ACV at (540) 801-8779.