The HeART and Story Project
The power of art and story to reveal and heal is universal and timeless. A new program of Art and Remembrance,
which draws on our previous educational efforts, HeART and Story provides opportunities for groups from a wide
range of backgrounds to consider and discuss issues raised by Esther Krinitz's story, and to reflect on and
share their own personal stories through art.
HeART and Story joins other projects around the world that use personal narrative told through art, and particularly fabric art, to build bridges within and between communities; to empower individuals to share their experiences; and to open hearts to the varied experiences of others, particularly experiences of discrimination and injustice.
In May 2012, with funding from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, Art and Remembrance paired up with the YMCA Youth and Family Services of Silver Spring, Maryland, to offer its first HeART and Story pilot, a two-session workshop for immigrant families as part of YMCA's Linkages to Learning program.
During the first half of the workshop, participants were introduced to Esther Krinitz's art and life through a screening of the award-winning documentary, "Through the Eye of the Needle." The screening was followed by a discussion led by Rachel Steinhardt, the granddaughter of the Holocaust survivor and artist, and by facilitators from the YMCA.
Esther's art and story stirred a wide range of emotions in the audience: joy, sadness, hope, admiration and nostalgia. The participants could all relate to it, as they too had left their home countries and, in some cases, their own parents and children behind.
They were then encouraged to come back to tell their own stories in visual form, in this case creating story cloths in felt collage. Art and Remembrance provided the participants with notebooks, pens and pencils so they could make sketches and write notes in preparation for the second part of the workshop.
Two weeks later, the same group returned to create their story cloths, guided by local artist and art educator Lauren Rader. The stories that emerged from this session were powerful and touching.
One woman's story cloth had a heart split in two, and she described how it broke her heart to see her children who live in the U.S. unable to go on to college because they could not enroll without documentation.
One of her daughters imagined herself as a butterfly traveling freely around the world, without being asked for papers.
A man visualized his odyssey as he crossed the Mexican-American border.
Another woman traveled back in time to her childhood, when her mother had to leave her and her siblings behind in El Salvador to come to the U.S. in search of a better future for them.
The cloth stories were later assembled in a "quilt" that is displayed in the Forest Glen offices of the YMCA Youth and Family Services. Once the quilt was created, participants described their story cloths, sharing with the rest of the group both their stories and how they visualized them.
The workshop proved to be a cathartic experience for its participants who, through art, could confront the deep-seated emotions that they had long held within themselves. Esther's art had shown them the importance of recalling and sharing their life experiences, and her art gave them a powerful example of how their stories could be told.
"We don't talk about those times," one mother said of her immigration experience, "because it is so painful. But it is important to tell the stories."
The HeART and Story project will continue to be developed and field-tested over the next two years. Art and Remembrance, in concert with community partners, will continue to fine-tune the program, and assure its effectiveness with a wide range of audiences. Our goal is ultimately to create a multi-media HeART and Story program kit that can be used by facilitators across the country to run the program in their own communities.
This project was supported by a grant from the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County.