Detention center students’ art on display

By Chris Kieffer/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – Sitting atop several rows of bookcases at the Lee County Library are paintings of jazz musicians, canyons, sea life and various colors and shapes.
The exhibit features the work of students who have spent time at the Tupelo-Lee County Juvenile Detention Center for various offenses at some juncture over the past five years.
“The exhibit is a way we can share some of the positive things going on in Juvenile Detention Center,” said Ryan Curry, an art teacher at Tupelo Middle School who also instructs the art program at JDC. “It gives students an opportunity to feel confident about their abilities. It encourages them to fulfill their potential. It gives the community an understanding of the possibility that lies within these kids.”
The exhibit will be at the library until Dec. 18. It is a compilation of many of the projects that have been completed in the JDC’s art program. Curry visits the center three to four days a week for about an hour and a half each day.
“The program is built around the idea of helping children become readers and improve math skills through visual arts,” Curry said. “Sometimes I’ll have a project in mind, and I’ll pull in math and reading concepts. Sometimes I want to stress math and reading skills, and I’ll create a project.”
Because of confidentiality laws, the names of the 12- to 17-year-old students are not displayed on their paintings.
However, Curry said, each work reminds him of the individual stories of those who created it. The program is also intended to be therapeutic, he said.
Many of the students had very little previous exposure to art.
“The program shows them they are capable of doing something through visual arts and shows them an alternate way of expressing themselves,” Curry said.
It is meaningful to the library to host the exhibit, said teen librarian Vicky Manning.
“We want our library to reflect the community,” she said. “Anytime anyone has something they want to put in our library, this is a grand place to put it.
“Knowing we opened our doors to their art, I hope it means a lot to those kids.”
chris.kieffer@journalinc.com