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Celia Jiménez here, thinking about how powerful and meaningful art is in our lives. During shelter-in-place, especially, artistic creativity helped me. Just imagining myself without music, movies or a camera to take pictures makes me feel a little anxious. 

Art is also therapeutic. It is a way to channel emotions and feelings, and that’s what a group of students did recently at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. School of the Arts in Seaside. 

The school’s sixth grade students took part in the You Will Rise Project: An Art Against Bullying Residency. The students mounted an exhibition on Sept. 24 that had pictures hanging with clothespins showing students posing with masks they painted, hand-made posters, sculptures that symbolized cyberbullying and some collaborative work: A phoenix coming out from the fire to symbolize rising above bullying.

Paul Richmond, a founder of the You Will Rise Project and the artist leading the residency, says asking students to create artwork depicting their experiences with bullying is “really about empowering them to use their creativity to make a difference in their school.” 

The school got $5,000 in grants from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The grant is normally for summer programs, but because classes started in August they did it during the first weeks of class. The money was used for two projects, one with third and fourth graders who learned about fashion and fabric sustainability with artist Jaki Canterbury from slowfiber in Monterey. The second was with the sixth graders. Wendi Everett, an art teacher, says students really thought about the meaning and consequences of bullying. “It was a really reflective art project around a social topic,” she says.

Brayan Zavaleta, age 11, says he and his group made “a bunch of monsters to represent how scary cyberbullying can be.” He says he’s been bullied because of his height. “People call me short,” he says. “It hurts my feelings.” Zavaleta says he has overcome bullying “by thinking positive thoughts and by ignoring some people that say it to me.” 

The project that caught my attention the most was the one about the students wearing masks. Richmond says there is symbolism behind it: “When people are bullied, you end up wearing a mask. “Symbolically because you're afraid to show your true self, we hide behind things, or we might be feeling really bad.”

In this case, the masks weren’t used to hide the student-artists’ true selves but to show, in an artistic way, who they really are. “You have to learn to accept yourself and to treat yourself with respect, before you can do that to other people,” Richmond says. 

Richmond says when he was young he was severely bullied. His art teacher Linda Regula, another You Will Rise Project cofounder, told him he needed art to express his feelings. “She's the one who taught me to use art in that way and I truly believe that it made a huge difference in my life,” Richmond says. 

Richmond says kids or people who are bullied many times can’t talk about what they are experiencing and hide from others what they are going through. “It's a release for them to vent what they're thinking and feeling,” Richmond says. 

“Art, in general, is very healing for the person who makes it and also for the people who see it,” Richmond adds. That’s why part of the project is having an exhibition where students from all grades can come see what their schoolmates have created. The exhibition will hang in the school gallery until the middle of October. 

Personally, when I feel down I like to take photos and get crafty with yarn and wire. These activities have helped me to feel better and keep going. What artistic activities do you turn to in a difficult moment?

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