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From Pain to Hope

Carina Hume - May 18th, 2006
A face with big blue eyes stares out from the canvas, marred by tears and a bright pink X where a smile should have been. The young girl, without a voice or a sense of place, is another casualty in the aftermath of a loved-one’s addiction.
The story is one of many illustrated by life-sized colorful canvases, shadow boxes and words of remembrance, to highlight the art exhibit, “From Pain to Hope.”
The exhibit opens May 13 in the lower level gallery of the Crooked Tree Arts Center in downtown Petoskey. It’s supported by a grant from the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation.
This is the first time that substance abuse has been presented in Petoskey through art in such a visible way.
Dan Juntunen, outpatient coordinator for Harbor Hall, came up with the idea as a way to share information. “I’ve had this idea for a long time to try to find a way to help raise awareness in the community of how substance abuse just doesn’t impact, necessarily, the people who are using it,” he says.
The exhibit is important, Juntunen adds, because individuals with addictions get treated, but not the communities doing the enabling.
“The intention was to empower adolescents who are in recovery through creative expression,” says Kate Winnell, a facilitator for the Safe Harbor Family Support Group, which specializes in helping adolescents and their families. She assisted Juntunen in applying for the project’s grant.
“They are in a period of shame and guilt and feel a major disconnect or alienation from the community,” she adds.
The exhibit helps adolescents understand that even while struggling with events in their lives, they still have something to give back. “They’re able to bring that out in the arts,” Winnell says.
Eight hand-painted murals, with talk bubbles explaining many pictures, provide an in-your-face experience. Juntunen believes the size of the stretched canvas is an added benefit.
“The bigger the better for this because it’s to where you have to take notice of what’s being said, and many of these groups are (those) that don’t have a voice,” he says.
Anonymity prevails as the artwork is essentially unsigned – it’s the sharing of the story, not the artist’s identity that’s most important.

Students from the public and alternative schools of Petoskey and Harbor Springs were the original targets for the project.
“This whole thing began addressing strictly the youth in this community because so many of them feel like they’re not heard and they’re not paid attention to,” Juntunen explains. But families and other interested parties also got involved in the project. Not everyone could participate, however; at one point, Juntunen heard the comment, “I would love my son to be a part of this but he’s in jail right now.”
The art project grew to include inmates at the Emmet County Jail, a judge, counselors, teachers, probation officers, health professionals, and virtually anyone who had something to share. Word-of-mouth introduced many people to the project.
For many people affected by substance abuse, the art project was the first time they’d ever been asked how they felt.
“Some of the most moving, emotional stories have come out of the professionals,” Juntunen says, recalling a surgeon whose success in life never revealed the trauma of his youth.
Letters from prisoners who wanted to be a part of the project began arriving, providing another aspect of the exhibit. “We’ll have the letters available,” Juntunen says, “where someone can just sit down and read the letters that have been written.”
Volunteer Kathy Bruehl is working on ways to make the show an interactive event. Currently, she’s casing the town in the hopes of adding more hands to the project – paper hands, that is – to help lift up the community with continued support.
“There is a big wood beam (in the lower level gallery of the arts center); it’s a foot wide and we’re going to put ‘Hope’ at the top,” said Bruehl. “We’re [photocopying] hands which are going to be attached chaotically, reaching up and out.”
The torn-out, colored paper hands are symbolic, and one student from the court-run Lakeview Academy school in downtown Petoskey and her probation officer even went to the county building in search of more. It’s Bruehl’s goal to get as many hands as possible on that beam. She hasn’t been turned down yet.

Although similar themes have appeared on the canvases – bars, hearts and tears are common – each story is unique.
“Most of these kids, they get dealt something,” said Bruehl, relating the story of a girl “born into” a home where the smell of marijuana and incense was the norm. Migraines from the combination are still a part of the young woman’s life. Her picture is of a flower with tiny faces in the middle of it.
Juntunen recalled the answer a nine-year-old boy gave to the question, “What do families need the most?” “Freedom,” he said pointing to the boy’s picture of a red, white and blue eagle, its beak open, two yellow eyes staring out with a U.S. flag tucked in one of its black wings.
An inmate’s picture of a road shows one car heading toward college and a police car going to Jackson prison. His story? He was on his way to college and made a wrong turn.
A picture of a hand represents a single mother of four boys struggling to stick together, their motto being, “Together we can make it as a whole hand.”
One recovering addict wrote a poem which will be set to music; another, a student from Petoskey High School, filmed some interviews.

The exhibit’s original intent was to raise awareness, but it’s also been a form of therapy for the participants. “It’s enabled many of the young men who are actually now in prison, to work through (their experience) on the canvas,” Juntunen says. “They made choices, they put dreams down, it’s enabled them to help cope.”
“There’s been some relief,” he adds. “There’s been an intensification of feelings for some. It’s brought up feelings they maybe haven’t allowed themselves to feel.”

“From Pain to Hope – A Community Art Exhibit” will be in the lower level gallery at Crooked Tree Arts Center beginning Saturday, May 13 and ending Saturday, June 10. Gallery hours are Mon.-Fri. 9-5, Sat. 10-4 and Sundays in June, from Noon-4. An opening reception takes place on Wednesday, May 17 at 7 p.m. at the arts center. A film created by a recovering Petoskey High School addict and a poem set to music will be performed with a reception following. Everyone is welcome.

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