10th Annual Arts in Response to Violence Conference

Michael Gross, Writer

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On Thursday, Oct. 17 and Friday, Oct. 18, NEIU held its tenth annual Arts in Response to Violence conference. Each year, speakers from all over the world as well as NEIU faculty members come together to speak about violence and show artwork in response to various acts of violence. There are workshop events where students can come in and create their own artwork in the spirit of this cause. 

This conference is put on for three reasons. The first reason is that the art helps people to understand violence, especially those whose lives have been affected by it. The second reason is that the artwork shows how others have coped with the violence that has affected them personally. The final reason is the conference and artwork calls attention to violence in hopes of ending or, at the very least, reducing the cycle. 

 One of the events that occurred during the conference was a speech by director and master papermaker Drew Matott of the Peacemaker Papermaking Project, who spoke to an audience about his craft. He stated, “Papermaking can be a therapeutic way to cope with violence, especially for those who have experienced violence personally.” He went on to discuss how the papermaking process allows individuals to “take control of a situation they had no control over and turn it into something productive.”

 Matott also showed the audience photos of art created by papermakers. A couple of the pictures he showed were about his brother going through a near-death experience when he got caught in a fire. He explained how papermaking helped his brother cope with a deeply traumatic moment in his life. One way that Matott hopes to reduce violence is by “disrupting the cycle of violence,” using papermaking as a therapeutic alternative to binge drinking or turning to drugs. He also said that they have 40 studios around the world with approximately 100 people working on the Peacemaking Papermaking Project. “The individuals that work on the project represent a variety of different people, from art therapists to social justice activists,” said Matott.

Another speaker was Faces Not Forgotten director and founder Christine Ilewski, who spoke about the organization’s part in helping parents of children lost to gun violence grieve. “Faces Not Forgotten is an organization that calls to attention to violence in particular when it comes to children,” she said. The organization tries to bring comfort to the families who have lost children as a result of gun violence by painting and displaying portraits of the victims for the families. Ilewski presented faces on a cloth with the images of eight children who were killed by gun violence. “This represents the fact that eight children per day lose their lives as a result of gun violence,” said Ilewski.

 The families of victims who were under the age of 20 get the opportunity to make a quilt with a picture of their child and then send it to Faces Not Forgotten. “This gives the families a way of healing and coping with a lost family member due to gun violence,” stated Ilewski. She went on to discuss the importance of art therapists in schools. Ilewski said, “We could have an art therapist in every school to work with these children that are traumatized by all kinds of things — poverty, victimization, cultural racism and a lot of other things.” She believes this would be a unique way of healing and processing their trauma.

Three of the people who helped put the event together this year were Michelle Kane, a retired professor who has a Masters of  Arts at NEIU, Lauren Meranda, an NEIU Arts and Design professor and Nan Giblin, who works in the Department of Counselor Education at NEIU. Giblin said the reason for putting this conference together is for “people to be able to handle violence in a positive way rather than a negative way.” Meranda touched on the issue of not just physical violence, but also mental violence and finding ways to cope with that as well. Giblin believes that the art helps reduce the amount of violence by using an alternative way to cope so that people who have been affected will have better memories to look back on as opposed to just the violence that occurred. 

When it comes to future goals for Arts in Response to Violence,  Meranda said “The hope is to share this message even more and to invite more people and voices into the discussion.” Meranda added that this was the first conference with installations of public art on campus. She went on to mention that there is a legacy wall across from the Students With Disabilities Office where people will be able to access the artwork. “With the legacy wall, this will give students the opportunity to visualize the art and cope with violence all year round,” said Meranda. 

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