The nearly 400 drawings and paintings that make up the Youth Expressions Art Exhibit at Greenville Mall offer a glimpse into the talent and perceptiveness of the young people of Pitt County, while allowing them to speak for themselves about the issues that plague our society.
The exhibit is an effort to create community awareness about the issues young people face by asking local elementary, middle, and high school students to create art reflective of the problems and issues they experience in their daily lives.
East Carolina University’s College of Fine Arts and Communication and its School of Art and Design, along with the Pitt County Substance Abuse Coalition, Greenville Police Department, Pitt County Schools, Citizens United Against Violence, and Greenville Mall, joined together to sponsor the exhibition.
Many pieces of art in the exhibit contain themes of the dangers of substance abuse and violence, and the exhibit is rife with sobering images of drugs, alcohol, guns, and death.
Gloria Bailey, assistant to the dean of the College of Fine Arts and Communication and exhibit coordinator, hopes that those who attend the Youth Expressions Art Exhibit appreciate the opportunity these pieces of art give us to better understand our young people. “Images are very strong. They express diversity of views—all kinds of views from all kinds of children. And that’s important because we need to have various perspectives in our society,” she said.
The exhibit is in its second year in Greenville and is continuing on the mission set forth last year. “We did a lot of work this year to get across the message of problem solving, and from what I saw from works collected, there’s definitely a broader message here in terms of what’s going on and what can be done,” said September Krueger, a graduate student in the School of Art and Design.
Snow Hill mayor Don Davis was on hand to deliver a keynote address in which he urged the community to join together to “paint a masterpiece” in the way we relate to our youth. “We have come to celebrate the work of our youth, we have come to celebrate our love, our compassion, but also our commitment to continue embracing them. When we do these things we paint a masterpiece, and we truly have a masterpiece in our youth,” he said.
ECU’s School of Art and Design faculty and graduate students worked directly with the schools involved and helped students create their art and share their messages. But why art? What makes it such an effective medium for children to express themselves and communicate very serious and complex issues?
“Art is really fast,” said Cynthia Bickley-Green, associate professor of art education at ECU and exhibit coordinator. “When you look at it you see the problem all at once. It is something that you can visualize, and the children can draw and then share the information very rapidly. Children may not have the vocabulary that they need to write this complex story, but they can draw it,” she said.
Krueger believes that art offers a sense of comfort to students in dealing with difficult themes. “There’s a detachment, too, I think, with what you can create with a picture versus what you can say with words. [The students] can get very personal in their work this way,” she said.
One of the more interesting pieces on display is a series of art boxes created by the sixth-grade class at C. M. Eppes Middle School in Greenville. Each panel of the transparent boxes contains a student’s impression of a particular issue, but the inside of the box is decorated with positive images, or “happy graffiti.” The combination of the two allows viewers to see the problems faced by the students, but to also see past them toward something better.
James Allred, ECU student and intern at C. M. Epps, worked with the class to create the art boxes and saw how effective art can be. “A lot of these things are thoughts we would have never known about [without the art box project],” he said. “It’s a great way for teachers to build relationships with the students.”
The Youth Expressions Art Exhibit runs at Greenville Mall through February 29. Admission is free, and the community is encouraged to attend.