April 30, 2017

Editorial: Reaching troubled youth through art

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It’s hard to imagine creating art, or looking carefully at art, without connecting it to yourself.

Maybe that’s what a participant in Arts Alternative meant when he or she said, “In art, I will always find my peace.”

That quote from a troubled youth was among several read by a Worcester Art Museum volunteer to a group gathered April 20 to celebrate an art exhibit that was displayed for several days at Worcester Trial Court.

A statement from another young participant, according to the Telegram & Gazette’s coverage of the exhibit and reception, was this:

“Art helps you express your anger so you don’t have to express it in different ways.”

That pretty much sums up the idea of Arts Alternative, an extraordinary collaboration between the Worcester Art Museum and the juvenile court system.

The program is in its fifth year, and is a credit to all involved for its simplicity and power.

The young people, ages 9 through 18, whose paintings, drawings and sculptures were on display in the courthouse lobby have already had some early involvement with law enforcement. Some have been labeled juvenile delinquents because of crimes committed. Others were runaways or truants.

The hope is to keep them out of the adult court system.

Referred to the program by a judge or probation officer, the youths meet at the Worcester Art Museum once a month. They are first guided through some of the museum’s exhibits so they can observe, discuss and gather inspiration. Then they have a studio session where they try their hand at the age-old endeavor of art: channeling feelings, questions and passions onto canvas or into clay.

One surprising and beautiful painting photographed by the T&G shows a dancer in a flowing red dress, kicking and reaching toward the sky in a pose of pure joy.

Other results on display last week also showed impressive talent. And in every case there’s a chance for pride and satisfaction in creating something unique and personal that others stop to ponder and appreciate.

Some of the young artists are even offered scholarships to continue learning through the museum.

“Art is my therapy. It relaxes me,” said one 14-year-old who will continue to develop her talent through a scholarship.

The Worcester County Juvenile Court and Worcester Art Museum should be commended for coloring outside the lines, so to speak, and partnering with each other and the community to help children.

Arts Alternative — which is supported entirely by donations made to the program through the Worcester Art Museum — is reaching some of our youth and helping them communicate in much better ways than through aimlessness and crime.

Fiona Bycroft-Ryder, a juvenile court probation officer who created the initiative, told the T&G that contributors include the John P. and Kelley A. Joseph Foundation, District Attorney Joseph D. Early Jr.’s office, the Fletcher Foundation, Patricia Fletcher, the Northboro Junior Woman’s Club, a Massachusetts Trial Court innovation grant, the Greater Worcester Community Foundation, Bay State Savings Bank and the Auburn UPS store.

A change in perspective is always a good thing. That goes double for young people in turmoil. This creative program might be quietly life-changing for many.

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