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Art & justice: Quilting project raises awareness of teens’ social justice concerns

The Leeds Center for the Arts’ youth board wants to create an intergenerational dialogue between teens and older adults on social justice.

Last Tuesday, several high school students came together at First Baptist Church Highland to create patchwork quilt designs to convey the artists’ thoughts on social justice issues that matter to people of their generation.

When the quilt is finished, it will become part of a large public art display in Winchester.

Kelly Hutchens, a quilter and member of the Leeds Center’s board, said the project is one she has long wanted to do, and it is inspired by the work of the Social Justice Sewing Academy, which works to “empower youth to find their voice through art.”

She said she and other volunteers help the kids design a block and come up with an artist’s statement about what their work means to them. The blocks are then going to be sent to embroiders in Clark and surrounding counties who will put the quilt together.

“Ideally, it would be nice to have local people to understand what our kids think are important,” and to empower them to express themselves, Hutchens said.

These are kids who are used to expressing themselves because they’re all involved in theater, but for some of them, visual art is a new challenge, she said.

Hutchens said she would like to involve other kids, too, from the church’s youth group.

Last Tuesday, at the church’s fellowship hall, teens were busy sketching designs, cutting cloth and assembling their work.

Ella Brock of Winchester had put together a design of a bouquet of flowers, and she explained that it had to do with mental health awareness.

“It’s kind of the idea that mental health is fragile, just like a flower,” but with proper care, it can flourish and grow, she said.

Ella Cooper, also of Winchester, was working on a pattern that represented defunding the police, which some people misunderstand, she said. It isn’t about denying police the resources they need, but to take some of the “big piece of cake” law enforcement gets and use it instead for mental health counseling, education and other things important to reducing crime.

Charlie Preston of Georgetown made a rainbow fist.

“Mine is about LGBT pride,” he said, and the message was simple and straightforward.

Will Wyatt of Paris had a design to convey that “LGBT pride is meant to include everyone,” including people of color, women and transgender people because too much attention, he said, is given to gay men. “Those are the ones who are mainly overlooked,” he said.

“I am designing a black woman, and it stands for Black Women Matter,” Madison Townsend of Lexington said, explaining her design. She believes have gotten more attention in the struggle for racial justice.

Jeffery Hale, an art teacher from Lexington, was watching some of the teens work and offering them suggestions. 

After he met with Madison, she said he had explained to her the concept of the Trinity in Christianity and how it could relate to her work.

“The Trinity is the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost, and he was telling me three will bring order and it will restore balance,” she said.

“I think you students have done an excellent job,” Hale said, addressing the room during a break. This is a representation of what you think and what you want to put out there for people. And everybody had a very powerful statement.”

Hutchens said the project needs more embroidery volunteers.

“You don’t need to be a master embroider. If you can do a running stitch or whatever, that would be sufficient for most of what we’re going to do,” she said.

Hutchens said that when it is safe and “things get opened up a little bit … I would like to see some communication between the student artists and the embroidery artists — like one on one. ‘What do you mean by this? Why is this important to you?’”

Tracey Miller, executive director of the Leeds Center, said the board is going to try to get a grant to help fund the project, and she wants to display the finished product in a gallery in Winchester.

She believes the art project is good for the kids and the community.

“The students have some great ideas they’re passionate about, and we have to be able to give them a voice,” she said.

About Randy Patrick

Randy Patrick is a reporter for Bluegrass Newsmedia, which includes The Jessamine Journal. He may be reached at 859-759-0015 or by email at randy.patrick@bluegrassnewsmedia.com.

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