Love and art supplies are all you need!
I recently interviewed Karen Blessen, one of the founders of the non-profit organization Today Marks the Beginning. Ms. Blessen is an amazing woman who has created many things in her life, but I think that Today Marks the Beginning is her pride and joy. Her enthusiasm, passion and vitality flowed over the phone lines during our hour long conversation last week. Her excitement for the work that she is doing and for the way that she has been able to bring art coupled with an emphasis on social issues and non-violent communication to students in Dallas is evident as she raves about the support of local schools and other organizations, as well as the obvious positive impact Today Marks the Beginning is having on kids. Blessen’s career has always been about graphic design, writing and art and she is the only graphic designer to have been awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Her travels to Africa as a member of the HIV/AIDS Leadership Council of Save the Children were one of reasons she created the concept for TMtB.
After her experiences in Africa and after witnessing the murder of a young man in her front yard (a story she documented in the article “One Bullet” which you can read here), Blessen felt a fire to work with children and to use art as a way to educate them about social issues as well as important topics like conflict resolution and non-violence. Today Marks the Beginning was created as a way to bring these conversations into local schools through a series of 14 lessons, each starting with one word. Kids are encouraged to use all types of art to express the meaning of the word: visual, performing, music, yoga, etc. TMtB provides all of the materials and instruction needed, as well as volunteers to bring these lessons to local schools. The goal is to teach children that creativity feels good and also to show them how the power of graphic images can influence us, both positively and negatively.
The most recent TMtB project is all about LOVE, just in time for Valentine’s Day. In this lesson, students talk about the different kinds of love and the many ways we use this word. Karen makes the distinction between “I love chocolate” or “I love your dress” and the kind of love that can’t be killed, the love where we give our hearts to someone. As Ghandi says, “Love never kills.” Students who participated in this project from several local schools, were asked to create a Valentine to their city that explained the “bigger” vision of LOVE, what Karen called agape love, not romantic love. The students were given several quotes to choose from and were required to incorporate the quotes into their artwork. TMtB held a contest at each school and then a panel of judges picked one winning entry from amongst all of the schools for the most creative Valentine. You will have to go and see the exhibit at North Park Mall to find out which Valentine won!
The most exciting part of this project is that we can all support it and see the amazing pieces these children created! From February 8 – February 21, the winning pieces of art will be on display at Nieman Marcus at North Park Mall. Additional pieces of art from all of the children will be on display at aLoft Hotel in Dallas. I encourage you to take your children to see the artwork. It might inspire them to create their own message of love but it will certainly show them what is possible and how fun it can be to create art and express our opinions, values and dreams through art.
The schools that participated in this project were L.L. Hotchkiss Elementary, Parish Episcopal and Irma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School. Blessen wants to make sure to acknowledge the outstanding teachers and administrators at these schools who make these projects happen. I agree with Blessen that our teachers rarely receive the recognition they deserve for how often they go above and beyond the work required in the classroom. At Hotchkiss, they worked with art teachers Joe Stokes, and Lawrence Lee. At Parish, thanks go to Becky Crawford. At Irma Rangel, the liaison is Diana O’Connor, Media Specialist. The judges for the project were Willie Baronet, Jordan Roth, and Debby Knotts. One more thank you is needed for the project at Irma Rangel, which is sponsored by the organization Peacemakers Inc. They received a grant from the Embrey Family Foundation to fund MasterPEACE work at this school.
If you love art and children, TMtB is always looking for volunteers to help out with school visits as well as other projects. Donations are welcome! You can contact Blessen directly about volunteering at Karen 214-827-3257 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Enjoy these photos of the Valentine’s the kids created and the fun they had while doing it!
Photography by John Katz