Soon after the mass shootings at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Nancy Noyes of Noyes Art Designs decided to host an exhibit showcasing works by Denver and Boulder high school students responding to the traumatic event. The show, titled #NeverAgain: The Conversation Continued, opens May 4 at ATC/DEN and includes photographs, ceramics and drawings.
The students' perspectives are uncensored, and “they can say whatever they want,” says artist Chloé Besson, fine-arts coordinator at Noyes and the show's main organizer. “They can express their frustration without feeling like, ‘Oh, we’re just kids. No one is listening.’”
The students' creative work helps them process their emotions, Besson adds. “We feel that this could be multiple things,” she explains. “It could be a safe place to express. It can be healing in the sense that maybe these kids who don’t go to Columbine or weren’t in Parkland still…they have lockdowns going on, they have new drills they have to deal with. They’re nervous. They’re anxious. In their own process of making a piece, personally, as an artist, I think it can be really meditative.”
As Besson drove around town dropping off call-for-entry forms, her own emotions surrounding recent school shootings sunk in. “These days, you can be so removed from so many fucked-up things that happen because we have media, TV, movies and all this stuff,” she says. “When we first put on this show — I’m way out of high school and not around high school students and thought, ‘This is horrible,’ but I remember I walked into a high school to drop off some calls for entry, and it was the first high school I’ve been into in years. I walked in, and I honestly felt uneasy. It just got so real.”
The show itself is more than just art; speakers such as Jefferson County Never Again rally organizer Jack Sironen will offer thoughts on the issue in hopes of sparking a spirited discussion. “It’s not just kids hanging pieces on the walls of their high school with pins,” Besson says.
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“Art is such a big part of who we are,” Besson continues. “You don’t have to be some artist with tattoos who's smoking weed and painting all day — anybody can be creative."
Just experiencing other people's work can be creative — and therapeutic. "I think that doing this through art is another form of talking about it in a way that some student may be like, ‘I don’t want to go to a rally and listen to people talk to me,’" says Besson. "Someone might be happier to draw something or go walk around a gallery space or soak in something visually.”
#NeverAgain: the Conversation Continued, opening 6 p.m. Friday, May 4, ATC/DEN, 3420 Larimer Street, 303-656-6768.