Adults are getting a window into the minds of students through the second annual Youth Speaks Out art show, which opened last weekend at the Palo Alto Art Center.
The Opening Reception was on March 9 at the Art Center, and the exhibition will remain until March 24 at both the Art Center and City Hall.
Youth Speaks Out is a program created by Palo Alto parent Carolyn Digovich and Henry M. Gunn High School visual arts teacher Deanna Messinger aimed at allowing teenagers to express themselves and address sensitive topics through an art medium.
“[Youth Speaks Out] project students conveyed their personal life experiences of being young in Palo Alto, with all the challenges, advantages, insights … and different cultural norms,” Digovich said. “Everything that defines the sense of who they are at the moment.”
Additionally, project coordinators hope the exhibition will strengthen a connection between the youth and adults.
“I want parents and [the] community to know how our young people are doing, by ‘listening’ to their art,” Messinger said. “We’ve been through a lot as a community, and any clear messages that young people can give to adults, might help make changes for a healthier student body.”
Although the exhibitions will feature only visual arts, the opening also featured various performances from teenagers, including Palo Alto High School student musicians Remi & Chloe and the Paly Bhangra Club.
“The theme of the event is Non-conventional Self Portraiture, and even though our [Remi & Chloe’s] art is not a visual art, we really do express ourselves through our music,” junior Remi Wolfe said. “Our music is so important to us, and we think it is important that our community understands the importance that the art plays in so many teenagers’ lives. Not only can we express ourselves and our feelings in a unique way but it also helps us to relive stress, have fun and feel a sense of accomplishment.”
The event displays over 114 works from students all over Palo Alto. However, to enable truthful self-expression and create a safe, non-judgmental environment for student artists, all artwork is anonymous. Artwork from Messinger’s Advanced Drawing and Painting class, Gunn visual arts teacher Jennifer Hogan’s photography classes and Paly teacher Margo Wixsom’s photography program is also being showcased at the event.
“Everyone has an artistic ‘voice’ and something to say, no matter what their art abilities are,” Messinger said. “If students have an artist statement, and the work isn’t too triggering, then they will be in the exhibition.”
Additionally, works from the Lead with Your HeART program, a writing and imagery workshop promoting youth leadership, is on display. Supported by Palo Alto’s Youth Collaborative and Youth Community Services, Lead with Your HeART was a Saturday workshop in February developed by Messinger and Gunn creative writing teacher Tart Wilson.
“It [Lead with Your HeART] gave … students an opportunity to make art that … might correspond to the courage and aspiration to lead, to speak up when it’s not easy to do so,” Digovich said. “Revealing oneself through art is not easy. Neither is taking a leadership role in life.”
Digovich received the idea to create the Youth Speaks Out program in 2010 after volunteering to find a way for students to communicate themselves through art when students at a youth forum expressed a concern for the lack of a “safe place” for teenagers to relax and exhibit their art. Afterwards, Digovich collaborated with Messinger to create a curriculum for the program, and the project was created.
“I thought I would like to be part of the larger community of adults who want to simply take time to listen to our youth, give them a chance to share their true stories through art and see the stories come alive on canvas,” Digovich said. “So I joined Palo Alto Youth Collaborative, which works with local youth through many youth organizations, and the schools.”
According to Digovich, art is particularly important for teenagers because it provides an outlet for self expression.
“Life is best shared through our stories, and art is the most direct way to illustrate them,” Digovich said. “Art reveals and does not lie. This fact affects all of us no matter our age, but especially youth, as they become more aware, because art gives you another language to articulate when words fail.”
Since last year, modifications have been made to the program. According to Digovich, the name of the project has been changed from “Teen Exhibition” to “Youth Speaks Out” to better reflect the goals of the program. The project has also been expanded to include Paly students, a change from last year when the curriculum was only taught at Gunn. Additionally, the artwork will be displayed at two larger venues, City Hall and the Art Center, unlike last year, when the art was shown at multiple small businesses such as Mike’s Cafe and Philz Coffee.
“There is nothing more precious to a society than its youth,” Digovich said. “Many adults in our town care deeply for the well being of youth in the world in general, but especially those close to home, where we might just make a tiny difference … by listening closely and acknowledging what youth are telling us.”