Iowa Juvenile Home residents use art to cope

BY SARAH BULMER | MAY 09, 2011 7:20 AM

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The artists' names were not disclosed, but their stories were on full display.

A young, half-naked girl in pigtails stands behind a cage, forced to watch an older man touch himself.

"Trust me," says a word bubble coming from the man. The piece was titled I am Still Suffering.

The 3D display was one of many included in a recent exhibition about childhood abuse and neglect.

The Trauma, Trials, & Triumph traveling art show is not only a chance for students of the Iowa Juvenile Home Foundation in Toledo to express themselves through multimedia pieces, it's also an opportunity for the foundation to garner much-needed awareness and funds.

The foundation received $1,500 from the Alliance Foundation several years ago to fund the art project, which came to Beadology, 220 E. Washington St., on May 6. Since that donation has run thin, they have used recycled funds to sponsor the projects.

Funding is a problem the Iowa Juvenile Home Foundation faces on a daily basis, said Carol Thompson, the Juvenile Home Foundation president. The organization receives no money from the state.

"The state provides no art training for the students," Thompson said. "No music, no drama, no art."

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But she said the $1,500 grant simply isn't enough. Since the organization was established in 1996, officials have had to cut space for 25 students because of budget restrictions. Once these students are cut, they are forced into foster care or sent to Juvenile Hall, Thompson said.

And Myrene Hoover, a member of the foundation's board, said these cuts aren't fair to students.
"It's really important the [children] in our society have an equal chance," she said.

Thompson said giving students a chance to be in the program is better for the state down the road.

"Whatever we invest in them now saves a lot of money in jail costs," she said.

On May 6, a small wicker donation basket sat in front of a large painting made by a child from the home. Next to it, a guest book slowly filled with names in order to garner financial support for the organization.

And though none of the student artists were present because of detainment or incarceration, the art told the stories of Iowa children ages 12 to 18 who have suffered similar abuse to the artist of I am Still Suffering.

"They're troubled," said Thompson. "They have grief. Art gives them a socially acceptable means of expression that doesn't get them in trouble."

And officials said they agree the creation of art is therapeutic for the students, who often end up homeless after they leave the facility.

"A lot of the times, they leave the juvenile home with their belongings in a plastic garbage bag," Thompson said.

Iowa City resident Al Carr, who browsed through the selection of art, said he believes the foundation is often under-funded because people turn a blind eye to the needs of the victims.

"Most folks would not want to be confronted by most of the situations that are exhibited by each of these pieces of art," Carr said.

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