PACES Children's Art Exhibition

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The idea was simple: Brighten the space at PACES new location with art created by PACES kids.

But executing that idea required months of preparation, hard work, and an abundance of talent and passion. Tiffane Friesen, Wyandot Center's studio coordinator and resident artist, joined Britney Hill, PACES Psychosocial program supervisor, to lead the effort.

Last week, Friesen, PACES staff, and the young artists from the Psychosocial program, welcomed the public to view the new art during an open house and recognition of Children's Mental Health Day. They also offered tours of the building at 7840 Washington Avenue in Kansas City, Kansas, where PACES moved to earlier this year.

"Our aim was to use the art to create a hopeful, welcoming and safe environment for families and children who come to PACES," Friesen said. "And we also wanted the project to be meaningful for the kids, to let them find a way to truly express themselves."

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Friesen inspired the young artists with the purpose of the art: to help the kids and families who use PACES services feel welcome. "I asked them, if you're having a bad day, what would make you feel better? What would you want to see? What's something someone told you that helped you?" She said.

Those questions lead to creations that deliver uplifting messages like, "You are not alone, we care" and "Grow through what you go through." They also yielded animals, trees, rainbows, people, colors and abstractions that communicate without words, giving visitors a sense that they are in a space where there is reason to hope.
 

Scattered throughout the building's three floors are about half a dozen "mandalas." A mandala is an ancient Sanskrit word describing a circle with patterns emanating from a central point; it means "healing circle" or "community." The mandala format allowed small groups of youth to collectively work on a single piece and illustrates how each child brings something unique and valuable to the greater whole. Large circles with symbolic messages, these pieces tackle topics selected democratically by the group.

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In one, Black history and excellence is featured. Hands breaking free from chains create the circumference, reaching out to embrace seedlings. In the center are four raised black power fists and four busts of President Barack Obama. There are depictions of Kansas City Monarchs caps (of the Negro Leagues) and two symbols that represent the life of slain teenager Trayvon Martin: the skittles and tea he was going to buy before he was shot in Florida in 2012. This piece shows both the struggles and triumphs of the Black community as seen through the eyes of the youth and leaves the viewer with a quote from Black Panther's Wakanda: "Show them who you are."

"We create more beautiful environments and communities when we intentionally connect to ourselves and each other through art - that's what this is all about," Friesen said.

View the full gallery of artwork and photos from the event via Flickr.