The HeART & Soul fundraising sessions are now complete! What a wonderful group of dogs to photograph and such great dog parents! Thirty-nine dogs posed for pictures raising $1560 for art supplies for the teens of the Vision & Voice program!
The program was started by Joan Zephier. She was the recipient of the 2016 Mayor's Award for Individual Excellence in Visual Arts for her work with area high school students by inspiring them to create pieces of art that express their own depiction of what addiction and recovery means to them. Using art as an outlet, they are gradually able to look at life in a different light and are able to deal with everyday living more effectively. The Vision & Voice program now includes the art of original poetry, and expresses many forms of mental health issues dealt with by today's teens.
Joan's philosophy is that every single person has a story, and every single person has an artist spirit. Our unique story told in a visual way has the ability to connect with someone else in ways that our words cannot. (Sioux Falls Arts Council)
I met with Joan last week to deliver a check for the money raised and she graciously answered a few questions so that I could share a bit more about the program with you.
• What is the mission of Vision & Voice and what inspired you to start the program?
I can't really tell you about how Vision & Voice started without including the Recovery Art Show. When RAS started in 2013, Volunteers of America had included art from their adolescent unit to fill a wall. All these 8" by 10" random paintings, then included one artist statement for all. In 2014, we were on the stage at the Washington Pavillion for opening night. That show was hugely attended and received a ton of press, including a huge write up in the Argus. The thing that I felt was missing from the show was the stories of the kids. Kids that probably weren't using to the point of addiction yet, but were growing up in homes where someone was. Kids like my own daughters who were around me, witnessing both my spiral down and climb back out.
In the winter of 2015, Janell Mills called me to come speak to her 211 class at Joe Foss, as I had done for the last few years. I would tell my story of addiction and recovery. After meeting with her students that time, the idea just came to me. I knew that if I just sent a call for art to the school, I would never get a thing. Most of those kids were kids at risk, which was why they were in that school to begin with. Kids like I was (I quit school my junior year and was kicked out by my parents, but that is another story for a different time). So I came back to the campus and asked my then boss, Dennis Ford, if I could buy some supplies and go work with Janell's students to tell their stories of addiction and recovery with art. He agreed and Tallgrass sponsored $500 to get the art supplies.
I sent an email asking Janell if I could come in and work with some of the kids, then take their pieces to the Recover Art Show that fall. She emailed me back in 10 min with a YES! That was the beginning of the Joe Foss Project.
The project has grown and changed a bit since starting out. I guess the mission was to assist the students to tell their stories. It no longer focuses solely on addiction and recovery, but encompasses everything and anything a teenager can go through. Eating disorders, abuse, rape, anxiety, you name it, someone has created a painting about it. I had high hopes of being part of all the high schools in Sioux Falls, and for a year I was at Roosevelt and a short time at Washington as well. Ultimately, I had gotten a new boss who wasn't real big on me being away from the campus that much so for a year I just took vacation and went to Joe Foss (Axtell Park) for a week in the fall and in the spring. We had a big show in the spring for the community in various spots down town, and one for their school at the end of each week. I think it was in 2017 that Janell wanted to see the program grow to include poetry and music. The Voice part started with Kim Bartling working with students on the written word and creating a poetry jam. That was when we moved to the Orpheum theater down town for the end of the year show.
• What do you love most about what the program provides for the teens?
I honestly didn't know what to expect back when I started. I had zero idea how much those kids and their stories were going to affect me. It is the best and the hardest weeks of the year. Someone will always tell me some secret that will rip my heart out, and I will attempt to guide them in how to tell it in a visual way through art. The students are required to write an artist statement that explains their piece, and what it was they were hoping to get accomplished. Those statements hang next to the piece. It is empowering for the artist and so moving for the witnesses. I can only assume that it is the same for Kim when she works with them to perform their poetry. Then to witness their bravery going to the mic and saying the words, it hits like nothing I have ever been part of.
• Have you been surprised by anything resulting from the program that you didn't necessarily expect when it began?
Something I didn't suspect would happen was that attendance would go up the weeks I was in the building. So much so that I was no longer able to handle the student load by myself. I have brought in various volunteers to help the last few years. Counselors, artists, teachers, art therapists, anyone who was interested in being part of it, I was willing to have help them. In a way, with its growth, it has taken away from the small group discussions and one on one that I loved so much. Growing pains.
• Where/when will the gallery showing be this year? And, can the community participate or help in any way?
The 2021-2022 show will likely be at the Orpheum, they have the space and the stage. If that is not available, we will figure something out. I think the greatest thing the community can do to support is show up for the show. So much has changed since covid and we are still waiting to hear how that will have long term effects on the program. So, stay tuned!
What Joan has done for these students of Sioux Falls is something that will impact them in ways that even they will not realize until looking back at their own story one day. Thank you, Joan for all that you do for our kids and our community.
Like Joan said, you are invited to show support for Vision and Voice by attending the show when it opens to the public. Monetary donations as well as art supplies are also appreciated for the program. If you're interested in being part of the art week, please reach out to Joan or Janell.
To be on the exclusive invite list and receive advanced notice of Pawsitivity fundraiser sessions just go to the home page, scroll to the bottom, and you can sign up there. By doing so, you'll also receive a series of emails pertaining to classic sessions with me, but you can always unsubscribe if that's not something that you're interested in learning more about at this time.
More images from this fundraiser can be seen in the Pawsitivity Gallery.