The Kids Are All Right

Four Columbine art students move out of the shadow of the shootings.

Kim Chlumsky was returning from lunch when her mom heard the shots echo in the backyard garden. As Kim approached the school, which is only a few blocks from her Littleton home, the streets were already blocked off by police. She thought it was a car wreck until her mom drove up and told her to go back -- there'd been a shooting. So Kim went home and watched the whole thing on live TV.

She didn't know Eric Harris or Dylan Klebold.

Rebecca Beachy was sitting in photography class. The teacher had just begun taking attendance when the fire bell rang. Everyone thought it was a drill until they walked outside and a man yelled, "Run!"

The art of the matter (from left): Krista Hanley, Rebecca Beachy, Travis Hill and Kim Chlumsky experience life at the Edge.
David Rehor
The art of the matter (from left): Krista Hanley, Rebecca Beachy, Travis Hill and Kim Chlumsky experience life at the Edge.
Hanley's "Steel Journal."
Hanley's "Steel Journal."

She didn't know Eric or Dylan, either.

Krista Hanley was standing in the cafeteria line when she heard glass shatter and pipe bombs explode. She dove for cover with the rest of the students. And when the entire cafeteria "got up and moved as one," Krista escaped through the auditorium and down a hallway.

Eric and Dylan were her friends, but that's all she'll say.

There. Now that the obligatory information is out of the way, they'd like to talk about their art. Because that's what this should be about. But when you're a student at Columbine High School, the questions -- "Where were you?" and "Did you know them?" -- have become as common as blue- ribbon lapel pins. And when you're a student at Columbine, April 20, 1999, overshadows everything else.

Which is why Kim, Rebecca, Krista and another friend, Travis Hill, have organized an exhibition of "uncensored and unaffiliated" student art at Edge Gallery that runs through May 7, with a reception this Friday. The show, which features the work of ten teens, all Columbine students, offers what they hope is a more complete view of student life before, during and after the shootings.

"People think that Columbine is all we do and think about," says Rebecca. "There are times when it still gets difficult, but it's not even really talked about that much. There's more of an unspoken understanding than anything. You don't dwell on it every day."

Kim, Rebecca and Krista -- ages seventeen, seventeen and eighteen, respectively -- will graduate next month; they all plan to study art in college. This will be their final high school show, the culmination of four years of work. They've thought a lot about the exhibition -- what they wanted it to be, what they wanted it to say. From the beginning, they wanted it to be different. And from the beginning, they wanted it free of adult supervision.

Ever since the shootings, they've lived under a magnifying glass. Everything from their clothes to their CDs to their video games to their prom dates has been scrutinized, analyzed and discussed ad nauseam. Some days it's like everyone wants to protect them and protect their school, which is understandable and appreciated, but it can also be suffocating. "Everything at our school is so tightly controlled now," Rebecca says. "We don't have much freedom to say things, we don't have much freedom to wear things, we don't have much freedom in general."

That's why the show is "straight from the students," they say. "If we had help from other people, they would take a different view of what it should be," Rebecca explains. "Adults have a great view of how they want things, but I think we've seen that already. We wanted this to be about more than triumph, healing and therapy. All of that's true, but a lot of it has been romanticized and mythologized. We don't want it to be so obvious. That's all we've seen for the past year: obvious."

And the places they've seen that most often are the newspapers, TV and magazines. In the first days after the shootings, Rebecca, Kim and Krista couldn't walk down the sidewalk in front of the school without someone shoving a microphone, notebook or camera into their faces. With last week's anniversary, the circus arrived again.

"A lot of the media portrays us as not having moved on," Krista says. "This community is, like, stuck in the April 20 mode. When the media comes back and does more and more, it makes it harder to move on. And the whole school is totally moving on. Personally, I'd like to get away from the whole Columbine name. That's why I'm leaving the state to go to college. I don't want to be associated with it and the questions that come. I don't feel like I have to answer everyone over and over."

"There's almost a mold that reporters use," Rebecca adds. "They all use the right words, like 'tragedy' and 'remember.' They all try to evoke emotion. They all ask the same questions in the same way. And the people who really have something to say are the ones who don't talk to the media and are more skeptical of those things. After a while it just gets really old."

But it's not just the news media. At times the school district, the school administration, the parents and even many of the students have tailored the Columbine image. One example of that has been the officially sanctioned art shows.

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