Addiction exhibit in Kokomo explores recovery through art

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KOKOMO, Ind.— Using art as a way to express and move past addiction – that was the goal of a project between Indiana University Kokomo and the Logansport Juvenile Corrections Facility.

Students from IUK worked for eight weeks with students from the LJCF to create works of art centered around addiction and the art is now hanging in IUK’s art gallery in its “Addictions” exhibit.

The project has been in the works for two years, said Jeffery Batis, assistant professor of psychology for IUK. He and two other professors got together and discussed the possibility of studying art on addiction. The professors applied for IU’s New Frontiers in the Arts and Humanities grant and received approximately $19,000.

The money paid for art supplies and fees associated with the program, Batis said. They have enough money left over to do the program again next year.

They weren’t able to study the Logansport students for legal reasons, he said. Instead, he and his colleagues are studying the impact of the program on the IUK students. He isn’t able to share any of the findings yet, he said, but it was a positive experience for the students.

Mary Schrock, an IUK fine arts student minoring in psychology, said she enjoyed being a part of the program because she was able to make a difference in the boys’ lives.

“It was a really positive experience for them and for us,” she said.

At the beginning, some of the boys were unsure of their skills or weren’t interested. By the end, most of them were invested in their work, she said.

“At the end, it was really beautiful,” she said. “We were able to get them out of their shells and help them rewrite their stories.”

Schrock wants to do something like this when she graduates, and would consider working with LJCF specifically. She wants to be involved with the project again next year, she said.

Schrock set up the exhibit, placing art in specific places to help tell a story. Many of the pieces at the front of the gallery focus on the pain and struggle of addiction. One piece, entitled “Cliff,” shows a ninja falling into a pit with the word “addiction” at the bottom. CLIFF is an acronym for “clean lifestyle is freedom forever,” which many other boys incorporated into their work. Another piece has the acronym written on a hand’s fingertips.

The exhibit continued from the pain to looking ahead at life beyond the facility, with one piece showing a dove flying against a blue sky. Another, entitled “Waves of Happiness,” shows waves of various, bright colors.

The boys’ art was mixed in with art from the IUK students. Libby Kimbrough’s piece, entitled “Torment,” featured a tormented face in green and purple hues.

“We really wanted them to keep positive,” Schrock said. “We wanted them to think about what recovery will look like. Some wanted to show pain and regret. We just kept encouraging them.”

Like many artists, the boys faced the challenge of finding their talent in painting. Some were frustrated when what they saw in their head couldn’t be put down on the canvas, but the IUK students continually encouraged them to move past the actual technique and focus on the message.

Wayne Madsen, who worked with Batis to make the project happen, said it was difficult for everybody in the beginning. The IUK students weren’t sure how to act around the boys, and the boys were apathetic about the project. However, by the end, the students were interested and involved, working on both sides to create meaningful pieces.

He said he wished the program lasted longer. Eight weeks wasn’t long enough, he said. He’d like the boys be able to create more than one piece in the future.

Seth Cook and Kami Elizabeth visited the gallery after hearing about it through a friend.

“This is beautiful,” Elizabeth said.

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