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Childrens Art Exhibition Marks 10th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 11:42am | By: Ashlea Maddox

A remarkable collection of artwork is now on view for the second time at The University of Southern Mississippi. “Drawing on Katrina: Mississippi Children Respond to the Storm” was first introduced in the summer of 2006 and featured approximately 300 works of art from South Mississippi children in kindergarten through the fifth grade.

Sixty-two works of art, chosen from the original collection, comprise the 10th anniversary exhibition, which can be seen throughout the summer at the Gallery of Art and Design in the George Hurst Building on the Hattiesburg campus. A closing reception, which is open to the public, is scheduled for Aug. 15 from 2-4 p.m.

This project originally began in the fall of 2005 following Hurricane Katrina when the USM Exhibitions Committee for The USM Museum of Art (currently the Gallery of Art and Design) met to discuss upcoming initiatives. Janet Gorzegno, committee member and professor, proposed the idea of organizing an exhibition of works of art created by children who were affected by the hurricane. Hundreds of works were featured in the first exhibition in the summer of 2006.

As lead organizer of this unique project, Gorzegno said the exhibition was designed to feature the viewpoint of children in the wake of this terrible disaster, with the hopes it would become an important venue for dialogue and healing in the affected area.
“The Katrina storm shook Mississippians young and old to the core, leaving many numb.  The art of children can be so honest and direct, and so full of love; it can cut through barriers we sometimes construct to keep difficult emotions from surfacing. I felt a show of children's art about Katrina could bring forth solace, catharsis, even joy—in spite of the horror and raw reality of the subject matter,” Gorzegno said.

Gorzegno added that another healing aspect of this project was the bringing together of people at a time when many were displaced from their homes and communities, in order to create this art exhibition and share the remarkable insights and bravery of young Mississippians.

Mark Rigsby, museum director, says the committee felt it was important to create an archive of such a powerful and historically significant body of work.

“Hurricane Katrina was devastating to the Mississippi Gulf Coast and was a traumatic experience for communities and families throughout the southern half of the state,” Rigsby said.

Rigsby added that the visual arts, most specifically drawing and painting, provide a direct means to express that which may be difficult to communicate with words.

“Communication is a very important part of the path to healing and Hurricane Katrina left a very big wound to heal. Creating these works of art provided the children with an outlet to tell their story, and to communicate their own personal experience about the storm,” Rigsby said.

The works in the exhibition include drawings, paintings and collages and represent a variety of experiences and events related to the storm and its aftermath. Some of the works depict specific images related to the aftermath of the storm. Others use vivid colors and powerful gestural marks to evoke the intensity of storm itself, creatively alluding to storm features such as ominous clouds, heavy rain, flooding, straight-line winds, tornadoes and snapping trees.

“Children truly have a natural ability to capture an experience and convey it with art. While many of the works do convey the terrible experience of the storm and its aftermath, others depict a community working together to rescue, recover and rebuild,” Rigsby said. “There are images of people being airlifted to safety, ice and water delivery trucks, emergency response crews and construction workers and people working together to repair the roofs of damaged homes.” 
Gorzegno feels the anniversary gives us an opportunity to reflect on ourselves, our communities, our families and friends, and the truly important things in our lives. 

“Perhaps as a result of this anniversary exhibition, the artists who created the works in this show will be inspired to consider how the experience of Hurricane Katrina has shaped them. The storm was terrible, but it was also potentially a great teacher, dispensing lessons for us all about the importance of resilience, gratitude and service,” Gorzegno said.

Organizers are currently in the process of attempting to contact the young artists who, almost a decade ago, created the works in the show. It is hoped that some of the artists will be able to visit the show and attend the closing reception on Aug. 15.

The collection is available for research purposes and is also available for loan to qualified exhibition venues. For more information, contact the Museum of Art by emailing artmuseumFREEMississippi.