A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words

Program intern Stephanie Arzate is a student of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. Read on as she discusses the language of the arts and how it transforms Free Arts youth.

I grew up speaking Spanish, mastered English, and can now dabble my way through a conversation in Arabic, yet I would consider myself a native speaker of art. Art may be a silent language, but it seldom minces words.  In my youth, art became my voice, one that was louder and more articulate than the soft-spoken child I was. The breath and clarity of the message was occasionally muffled, but time and time again art gave me the strength to speak up, scream, and sing when other emotions silenced me.

My continued love for art followed me through the entirety of my life and ultimately brought me to the steps of Free Arts. I began my internship reluctantly wondering if this was the right fit for an international relations major, but those doubts quickly melted away as I discovered an organization wholeheartedly committed to the youth it serves.

No place does Free Arts’ creed, “Art Heals,” prove to be truer then at Multicultural Arts Camp. Arriving fifteen minutes late on my first day at MAC Camp, I was immediately thrown into the madness of the day in the Spoken Word workshop, still confused at what exactly my role was as a volunteer for that day. I proceeded to sit quietly in the back of the classroom, attentively listening to the words of Myrlin, the instructor, as he began to teach his students the importance of “showing, not telling.” Once the campers began writing, the classroom fell into a blank stillness; only the rhythmic beat of each pencil managed to muffle the perfect silence. Upon asking the group for a volunteer, one little hand eagerly flew up amongst the rest. Up until that moment, this camper’s enthusiasm and willingness to go first did not surprise me; throughout my short time there, I had observed him as a natural-born leader, promptly answering any questions Myrlin asked the class. His personality radiated a sort of happiness I can’t even describe.

When he proceeded to share his poem with his audience, I was left shaken to the core. The young poet began by describing an entangled relationship with his father, one of betrayal, pain, and physical abuse. Each word brought me closer to tears as he described harrowing scenes from his past. Still, even more surprising was the underlying message of forgiveness a young boy no more than thirteen had managed to weave through his poem. His words brought chills down my spine; two other volunteers stepped out with tears running down their eyes. At the conclusion of his poem, the class once again fell into silence, one that seemed to wrap a sympathetic arm around the poet and say, “We understand.”

Art is not an imitation of reality, but liberation from it. An artist, therefore, is a person who reaches into the greatest pits of his fear and imagination and translates the message onto another medium. That day, before my very eyes, I witnessed the humble beginnings of several new artists as they discovered the truth behind these words once written by playwright George Bernard Shaw: “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.” For the remainder of the week, I saw as the youth at MAC camp created shadow boxes in memory of those they had lost and danced away their past troubles. Just as art had once helped me find my voice, I witnessed how many of the MAC campers found theirs in the world of art.


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