Quilts for kindness: Students collaborate with American Visionary Art Museum on quilt project

In the fight against bullying, local high school students have stitched together their thoughts and feelings through quilts.

More than 130 National Arts Honor Society students from Howard County participated in “Kindness Works,” an outreach project in collaboration with the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore. The project, which includes five quilts, is currently on display through July 2 at the Howard County Center for the Arts in Ellicott City.

The project was an outlet for students to express ideas “that aren’t always easy to explain with words,” says Amy Armiger, director of K-12 education at the American Visionary Art Museum. “They were able to experience and witness how art can be a powerful tool for change, and by displaying their final works of art, the students are promoting greater civility within their community, and are taking an active role in the effort to end bullying.”

The project, which was funded by a $4,644 grant from the Howard County Arts Council, includes the work of pupils from Hammond, Long Reach, Oakland Mills, Wilde Lake and Howard high schools.

“Amy [Armiger] asked the students to raise their hands if they’ve ever experienced bullying or unkind behavior, and every student raised their hand,” says Kiersten Bram, visual arts instructor at Oakland Mills High School. “This is not something that just happens to one group -- it’s across the board. It’s definitely prevalent, and it definitely needs to be addressed.”

Celine Manneville, a senior at Oakland Mills, recounted her experience with bullying in middle school as inspiration for one of her designs, which featured a yellow Post-it note.

“Kids would make fun of me and call me fat. It was upsetting, and it really hurt,” she says. “One day, I went into the bathroom at school, I closed the door, and I saw a sticky note that said plain and simple, ‘You’re beautiful.’ The fact that I had come upon it really helped me that day.”

Senior Jessica Smith, president of the National Art Honor Society at Oakland Mills, designed three squares with the inspirational phrases: speak up, stand tall and stay proud.

Smith recalled the anniversary of Grace McComas’s death, calling it “one of society’s greatest failures.” The 15-year-old Glenelg High School sophomore committed suicide on Easter Sunday, 2012, after being cyber-bullied.

“We definitely failed her that time, and we don’t want to fail her now,” says Smith. “One of the interesting things about this project is it’s not only anti-bullying, but it’s also pro-kindness.”

The Howard County Center for the Arts is located at 8510 High Ridge Road, in Ellicott City. For details, call 410-313-2787 or go to hocoarts.org.

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