It's been said that art is a window to the soul. It helps the artist express themselves while helping them to better understand the world around them, especially when that world feels upside down.
On one of the final days before students at Dallas ISD’s Conrad High School returned to its halls, teachers gathered in the cafeteria to create, each completing a piece of art.
“This is going to be a chance for all of us to put those feelings out there, not only the ones we have felt but the ones we've been yearning to feel during this time when we were apart,” said art teacher Jacqueline Smith.
It was part of the latest community project from Dallas-based Pulitzer Prize-winning artist Karen Blessen, founder of 29 Pieces.
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“The teachers, and I think some other staff members here at Conrad, are doing the art project for the American Love project, which is a national project talking about the tension between some of the ideas in our country and the realities of life in America and how can we, through love, respect and passion, find some common ground,” said Blessen.
That may sound like a tall order looking around at cafeteria tables covered in simple craft supplies surrounded by amateur artists like first-year teacher Navarre Bell.
“I'm just trying to get it done,” said Bell as he traced his hands.
Then he explained his inspiration, and it was clear the project’s purpose wasn’t lost on the room full of educators.
“I thought about love, and I just put both of my hands together. And I put, together in love we can grow as a nation,” said Bell. “What I hope what people feel and what they think is that two hands are better than one. It doesn't matter what color it is. But if we unite together, we can make this a better place to live."
His project and Smith’s are just two of the hundreds Blessen is collecting from educators, students and people from all 50 states to eventually display along the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Thus far, she has artwork from 35 states. She’ll work into the fall to collect more.
All are focused on the one thing she believes the nation needs most right now, love.
“What I’m hoping is that we are igniting love here, love here, love here, love here all around the country. So that just in little bits, one child at a time, one person at a time, there has been an awakening and that it spreads around the country,” said Blessen.
It’s not the first community project from 29 Pieces, which also organized the Dallas Love Project in 2013, but it could be the most daunting.
Blessen started the organization in the wake of her own trauma to promote positive change and healing through art.
She hopes her American Love Project can do the same for people nationwide.
To learn more about how to help, email Karen@29Pieces.org.