Personal growth among benefits for youth offenders through art
Author: Rachel Cavanaugh, Woodburn Independent
Posted: July 22, 2011

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WOODBURN — The Hope Partnership, a program at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility that fosters art instruction and life skills, arose from the need to infuse art into the facility and give young offenders positive outlets for expression.

Kanaan Kanaan, a Portland State University student adviser who has been working with the youths on a mural project, said many of the boys have never had positive feedback in their lives.

He hopes painting "Rites of Passage" has helped them begin to believe in themselves.

He has already noticed the impact by the appreciation they’ve begun to show — a sign of personal growth. Within the group, young leaders have also emerged and they are learning new ways to view the world.

"Seeing the dynamics and the way they interact with each other, it was very promising," Kanaan said. "When they get out they will start soaking things in and they will start looking at life differently. I'm sure they will look at any incident that happens before their eyes and they will stop a little bit and think instead of react."

Having their work displayed at a large institution will also boost their morale, Kanaan said, and make them feel special. Moreover, it might influence them to seek higher education for themselves, he said.

Kathleen Fullerton, project manager for the Hope Partnership, said the experience has been great for the boys. Prior to Kanaan's arrival, she said, they had often made art but with no formal instruction.

"They are all sorts of artists in their own right," Fullerton said. "They have really explored. Some of them have actually been self-taught."

Making art has been a positive form of self-expression for them, she said, and having the opportunity to work with a certified art instructor has been invaluable.

The proof has been in the way they've reacted to Kanaan, she said.

"You can really see them grow as young men because they have to practice patience and attention to detail," she said. "Then they also co-collaborate and they can give each other feedback and learn how to receive feedback. It's a really integrated process and you can really see the personal growth in their art technique as well as they're exploring other media — charcoal, colored pencil, acrylics and air brushing."

Once they are released, some have talked about pursuing art as a career path. Others will simply continue it as a hobby.

Either way, she said, the new skill will enhance their lives.

"The young men really have gravitated toward (Kanaan's) style and his presentation and what he has to offer," she said. "It's just been a really very productive relationship."

Each of the 10 students, in addition to the mural, has created an individual piece to hang at PSU. Some were exhibited during a winter art show.

The attention and instruction has been good for their self-esteem, Fullerton said.

The idea of the mural project, as well as the other Hope Partnership programs, is to develop positive outlets to keep the boys crime-free once they are released.

Kanaan pointed out that life will be difficult on the outside. Returning to the same environments from which they came will pose challenges and it is important the community is behind them, he said.

Some have expressed interest in going to school or starting businesses. However, it will take more than simple desire.

The effort must go both ways. As they begin, it is hoped the skills they've developed through art will help them succeed, he said.

"I could say all this in theory but it's really up to them and it's up to the environment that they live in," Kanaan said. "… There is that positive thinking. But can we as a community translate that and help them move forward or not?

"We have to come together as a community and not see these kids as criminals or ex-cons. Try to take them, (acknowledge) that they served their sentence, give them another chance — seriously and sincerely give them another chance."