It’s an unfortunate necessity that in the world of social justice, we spend a lot of time focusing on injustice. This focus on what’s wrong can catalyze us to figure out how to do things right. But sometimes we forget to celebrate moments of love, peace, and forgiveness in our own communities, which is why it was such a joy to read about a school art project in Hill City:
Like most Americans, a former art teacher in a tiny western South Dakota town watched stunned as details about last month’s shooting at a Connecticut elementary school emerged.
Lorri Acott could only imagine what the students of Sandy Hook Elementary were going through after a 20-year-old gunman opened fire at the school, killing 20 kids and six adults.
That’s when she decided to work with local students in Hill City — population 900 — to offer a little bit of peace and hope to the Connecticut students more than 1,700 miles away by making paper cranes embedded with personal messages and prayers…
The students have created about 150 cranes so far and are encouraged to take paper provided by the Arts Council home so they can create more, said Lori Jones, art teacher at Hill City School District…
The cranes from Hill City will eventually be sent to Bethel High School, a nearby school in Connecticut that is working to create 1,000 cranes for every person killed at Sandy Hook, said Kristin Donnan Standard with the Hill City Arts Council…
Donations to the effort, called Healing Newtown, include original artwork, photos, music, performance events and workshops, among other things, [Lisa Scails, executive director of the Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut] said. Art therapist[s] have also offered to donate their time for workshops and programming for the community.
“We’re really very fortunate that the love that has poured into the community has been overwhelming,” Scails said.
In celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the SD Peace & Justice Center is teaming up with the Vermillion Area Arts Council to present the Art of Peace, a multimedia exhibit that seeks to harness the power of art to promote peace, tolerance, and community. A man who died not long after Martin King famously said, “Some men see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say why not?” This is the gift of art in the world: it takes the materials of life–paint, canvas, wood, stone, musical tones, breath, vibrations, joy, pain–and forges out of them something new, giving us a glimpse into the world not as it is, but as it could be.
Surely these young people from Hill City are doing exactly that: showing us a world where children half a continent apart can be connected through the power of art. So as our state legislature debates how much money to give to schools this year, the kids of Hill City are as good a proof as any for why funding for the arts is so incredibly important. This is what education–educare, “drawing out from within” into a world of human connection–is all about.