Colorful Catharsis

Colorful Catharsis
July 24
00:00 2014

Artwork of young patients featured in SECCA exhibit

(pictured above: Westley McCormick by his artwork.)


Brenner Children’s Hospital patient Michael Wilson, 14, points to his art on display.

Brenner Children’s Hospital patient Michael Wilson, 14, points to his art on display.

An exhibit of artwork created by Brenner Children’s Hospital patients opened last Thursday at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA).

The works in “Outside the Box” were created by repurposing cardboard and include iridescent masks and animal totems.

The youngsters’ creations came to life through Arts for Life, a nonprodfit that offers art, music and creative writing programs to Brenner patients and their families during their hospital stay.




“We help transform these kids’ rooms into artist studios,” said Rachel Zink, executive director of Arts for Life, which is headquartered in Asheville and also works with patients of Mission Hospital in Asheville, Presbyterian Hospital in Charlotte and Duke Children’s Hospital and Health Center in Durham.

“Outside the Box” also includes unique landscape portraits, in which photographs of the kids donning masks have been digitally inserted into their own art work, and a five minute movie the children wrote and star in. The young performers wear animal masks in “The Ruby Heart Adventure,” which was shot and edited by Jena Lacey, an art major at the University of North Carolina who interned with Arts for Life.

DSC_0048The program depends on interns and volunteers to lead the hospital art classes it offers. Ana Littman founded Arts for Life in 2001 at Brenner, where her 11-year-old sister was bing treated for bone cancer. Littman realized there was little for patients to do at the hospital, so she brought a camera along to teach her sister photography. Other patients wanted to learn, too. Arts for Life now reaches 2,000 at Brenner and more than 6,900 statewide.

“I think the kids that we see at Brenner Children’s Hospital and hospitals around the state should be able to have a place where they can explore their creativity and their imagination and achieve goals, build their self esteem in the middle of what might be the hardest thing they go through in their whole life,” Zink said.

Katie Clowers with a turtle she made.

Katie Clowers with a turtle she made.

Katie Clowers, 15, said the program did all of those things for her. She was diagnosed with leukemia when she was 8. She said Arts for Life turned an incredibly difficult experience into something positive. Katie has been cancer-free for five years, but returns to Brenner regularly for checkups. Sometimes, she returns when she doesn’t have appointments, just to visit the Arts for Life table.
“You make amazing new friends; you make amazing relationships that last a lifetime,” she said of the program.

The program also gave Westley McCormick, 13, something to look forward to as he was being treated for leukemia.

“I get excited for Arts for Life,” said Westley, who is also now cancer-free. “Getting into the hospital, getting needles stuck in me – that kind of bummered me down, but then. I got to go to art.”

His painting of a dragon in space inspired the kids’ movie, which he co-wrote. Westley takes part in Kids Connect, Arts for Life’s monthly creating and conversation group for former and current participants.

Betsy McLawhorn, Arts for Life’s Winston-Salem program director, said donations keep the program stocked with 10 cabinets full of every art supply imaginable so that Brenner patients can always create art, no matter what they’re going through.



“They have something to look forward to,” she said. “They know that when they come up to the hospital, they have choices at the art table. They can’t say ‘No, I don’t want to get chemo today,’ but they can say, ‘I want to paint; I want to do sculpture;’ and the possibilities are endless; we never say no.”

The exhibit will be up until at least Aug. 9, when Art for Life volunteers will lead SECCA’s Community Day. The gallery 750 Marguerite Drive, is open Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Thursday 10-8 p.m. and Sunday 1-5 p.m.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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