Marginalized children display true talent

Approaching the tall doors to the William & Nancy Oliver Art Gallery, it is fairly surprising to notice a big, burly man sitting on the floor with his back against the gallery’s desk. It is only upon entering the gallery that one realizes the man is a life-sized, realistic sculpture. This piece of art certainly sparks the curiosity of the onlooker, who, after the realization sinks in, would want to inquire about such gifted sculptors. They are none other than the children and youth of Sulfur Springs, all belonging to the low-income strata of the community.

The exhibit, hosted by the USF School of Art and Art History, aims to use art as a means of saving the lives of children who come from the underprivileged areas of society. USF faculty members Ed Ross and Michael Parker work closely with youths and children from Sulfur Springs.

“We look at the entire community and the entire life of a child, and use art as a connector between the two. Art is about significant communication of culture,” Ross said.

The disadvantaged conditions of the community, as well as Ross’ residential connection to the area, were the rationale behind the choice of Sulfur Springs, southwest of USF. According to Ross, nearly 48 percent of adults in the area never completed high school. One noteworthy achievement of the program has been the stimulation of interest in education. Lakeema Matthews, 17, was once entirely opposed to the idea of higher education.Today she attends classes at HCC because of her involvement with this program.

The flow of creativity from the hands of these children is evident in the gallery. Faculty members and students from the USF College of Visual and Performing Arts mentor the children while teaching them principles such as proportion, color mixing and

perception. The resulting drawings are placed along the wall to render a before-and-after effect. The observer can follow the pictures as they mature from disproportionate sketches to lively portraits. Such improvement occurring in just one or two classes

is tremendous.

USF sophomore Shannon Rowe seemed delighted with the exhibition.

“The art is really honest. It is interesting to see the many different interpretations of life around you and what is important to other people. These are community artists – common people that want to express themselves through various forms of art,” she said. She carefully observed the drawings and seems to have made

a connection.

“The aspect of involving the kids and their art fascinates me the most. I remember what I drew in my childhood. As a kid, one is not worried about perfection, and this grants certain honesty. I see an innocence and simplicity in the kids’ works. Some things are totally out of proportion, but that is (something) uniquely creative, which you tend to lose as you grow up.”

The community art is not restricted to pencils and paintbrushes. Theater, sculpture and neighborhood restoration are equally important facets of the program. The teens’ theatrical talents are showcased through various photographs of their stage performance.

“The kids created musical instruments of cardboard and paper -mâché. They even made a huge 8- foot squirrel for their performance. The squirrel now sits atop the house that the teens renovated in the community,” Ross said.

One of the most fascinating parts of the program was the sculptural communication center. These are masterpieces created by the youth and placed in the locality to get a dialogue going among the community. As for neighborhood restoration, the kids clean two city lots every Saturday morning. While learning about the native plant species, they collect trash, dispose of it and revitalize the environment.

Communication is a key part of the program.

“We want to show how the participants can develop a relationship with their environment. There is no sense of place value in today’s transient society. Art is a powerful tool for positive social transformation,” Ross said.

The Community Arts exhibit is on display from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. until Thursday in the William & Nancy Oliver Gallery on campus. A reception for the exhibition will be held at the gallery at 7 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 31.