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Renaissance Village Art Therapy Trip #9 to NOMA– Sept. 2007
By Karla Leopold LMFT, ATR, Fine Artist

There was an over whelming buzz of excitement and enthusiasm in the air in mid-September at Renaissance Village. When the art therapy team arrived at the trailer park, a large group of residents greeted us with anticipation and lots of questions. The children had big smiles on their faces and greeted us with hugs. This was a long awaited day for them and for the art therapy team. We were preparing to take a trip with the children and their families back to New Orleans two years after Hurricane Katrina, not to see the things lost and left behind, but to view the art created by the community of Renaissance Village. Katrina Through the Eyes of Children was now being exhibited at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Sister Judith Brun, Leo Bonamy, Megan Perez and some of the residents spent weeks organizing the trip, collecting permission slips, recruiting volunteers, arranging meals and creating interest in the trip. I had envisioned that there would be one busload of residents going on the trip. When we talked to Sister Judith prior to the week of our arrival, she had filled over three busloads of interested participants; over 100 people. Everyone wanted to go! She had faith that it would all be fine and it certainly worked out that way!

Days prior to the trip, the team spent time organizing, handing out T-shirts and created art preparing the participants for what they would see. The therapists were concerned that without preparation, close observation and follow-up, revisiting the story of Hurricane Katrina would cause some participants to be re-traumatized. Fortunately this was not a problem.

The big day arrived and the tent was full of very excited children and adults! The adults came dressed up. The children’s faces were shinning and they were on their best behavior.

Local volunteers, students from the LSU education program and members of Big Buddy’s mentoring program joined us as chaperons. Reporters from the New York Times, NPR and the Baton Rouge Advocate came along as well as a photography and video crew to document the day.

 
We loaded the buses, with box lunches in hand, and set off for the two-hour trip to New Orleans. Katrina had devastated the museum and surrounding areas two years earlier, but on this day when we arrived at the beautifully restructured grounds it looked stunning with the sun shinning down on its white stone structure.
 
It was quite a sight to see the three busloads of people fill the large flight of stairs that led to the front doors of the museum.

As we entered the museum, a small crowd of reporters, local dignitaries, museum employees, and others that had been affected by Hurricane Katrina filled the entryway. A piano was heard in the background and food was served. The museum staff took care to make this a special day for us
 

After greetings from the museum director and staff, Sister Judith and I said a few words. We were concerned that the children who accompanied us would be disappointed if all of their art wasn’t hung in the museum so I stressed that the art that they were about to see was not necessarily the art that each individual had created but a collection of art telling their story. This was art created by their community for the world to see.

   

Entering the gallery accompanied by the children who created the art took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. The art looked important framed on the white walls of the gallery. The impact of the art portraying the experience of Katrina and the aftermath as told through the eyes of children was simple but powerful. The families from Renaissance Village felt it, too.

   
   

One grandmother said, “The exhibit was wonderful and important but it was really awful that we had to live through the experiences displayed on the walls to earn a place in a museum.”

The children found their art, their friend’s art, photographs of people and places they knew.

   

They talked about creating art in the art therapy sessions. Reporters, photographers, and video crew asked to interview them and take their photos. The children had smiles on their faces.  They were very proud.

 
     
One young man stood by his art with his father for hours posing for photos and answering questions about his ant house creation. His father said that this was one of the proudest days of his life and was very thankful for the help his children had received with the art therapy.

One man shared with me that this was a really wonderful experience. He imagined that being in the museum was like going to the White House in Washington, DC. He was sure that a visit to the White House couldn’t be anymore special than this.

Another young adult was overheard saying, “I didn’t know that people like me were allowed in places like this, but not only did I find out I can come here, I found out that I can have my work hung on the walls. I’ll be coming back.”

We loaded the buses in the afternoon with happy, proud, tired and hungry people. The adventure wasn’t over, as Sister Judith had made reservations for all hundred plus of us to eat dinner together at Piccadilly’s Restaurant, a popular local cafeteria. At the restaurant the plates were filled with good food and conversation about the day took place throughout the room. Not only did the residents have a happy heart, they had very full stomachs. It was a wonderful day for the people who deserved it most, the people displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

In October 2005, when I first saw the art created by the children during the art therapy sessions, I knew the stories told through the art were very important and needed to be preserved. The experiences created in the art through the eyes of children told something important about our nation’s history and I wanted others to see what I was seeing. The vision of the art exhibit became a shared vision with some very talented people and it is now providing learning tools for the future; tools to learn about trauma and it’s impact on children. The exhibit reaches further. It validates the stories of the people at Renaissance Village. It documents their role in one of our Nation’s largest disasters.

   

And on September 16, 2007 at the New Orleans Museum of Art over one hundred men, women and children from the community that created the exhibit viewed Katrina Through the Eyes of Children. It was a glorious day!  It was a vision fulfilled!

   


Katrina Through the Eyes of Children, the mixed media art exhibit created by these children becomes more important with every visit. This story must be told!

 

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