EATON — On Wednesday, May 11, the Preble County Art Association hosted a year-end reception for its Youth for Public Art program, a joint effort with the Preble County Juvenile Court to serve at-risk teen boys in Preble County by teaming court-involved youths with professional artists to make public art and build skills in art, teamwork, problem solving, and community development.
The program hosted five students, who spent two semesters over the last school year working on projects including ceramic totems and uprooting dead bushes to build an outdoor sculpture garden. This is the third year for the program.
“It’s very much about community building,” said instructor Caitlin Cartwright.
Program coordinator Holly Steele agrees. “They come here after school, so we’re their transition between the long day working and their evening at home. We create art together, but we also teach them to cook, and they’ve taken to it very well. I’m so impressed. You really see them take on a new confidence each time they learn to be a little more self-sufficient and see that they can make something practical that they can enjoy afterward. We also cultivate play. Just giving them playtime, and time to release, has brought them so far. All these things are outlets. One day we all went outside and threw eggs to get frustration out. But at the end of the day, we’re creating together. They definitely teach us just as much as we teach them, and that’s been so valuable.”
“One of the kids had a total transformation during this last semester together,” Cartwright said. “I originally had a hard time connecting with him, and now he’s picked up something of a leadership role and is modeling behavior for the other guys and telling them when they’re not being respectful to others. He’s the first to jump up to help or demonstrate something, and he’s teaching me things now instead of the other way around. It’s been cool to see him take on that role and be proud of it.”
“They have to come together and work as a team to get things done,” she continued, “and that also translates into the cooking. We basically sit down and have a family dinner every day, and that leads to great moments, and moments where they become vulnerable and can talk about what’s going on, which is great.”
Steele said, “There are brotherly bonding moments that are great for me. I pride myself on trying to create a safe environment for them to let go.”
For more information about the Youth for Public Art program, contact the Preble County Art Association at 937-456-3999.
Reach Duante at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @duanteb_RH.