Northwood High School

Arts Project Finds a Showcase for Inmates' Lessons

Panels of Hope, unveiled before several dozen people at Northwood High School's main office, explores the stages of transition for offenders.
Panels of Hope, unveiled before several dozen people at Northwood High School's main office, explores the stages of transition for offenders. (By Daniel Peck)
By Julie Rasicot
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, December 20, 2007

With a couple of tugs, Northwood High School Principal Henry Johnson and officials from the Montgomery County Department of Correction and Rehabilitation yanked down a red sheet hanging in the Silver Spring school's main office, revealing four faces painted on large panels in green, blue, brown and red hues.

A crowd of 50 or so applauded enthusiastically at last week's unveiling of the painting, which was created by juveniles at the county jail in Boyds through a program run by Class Acts Arts of Silver Spring, a nonprofit arts outreach organization.

Titled "Panels of Hope," the mural expresses the stages of transition for inmates as they participated in specialized therapy. The program is designed to help offenders younger than 21 accept what they have done wrong and then give back to their community, corrections officials said.

The first panel, which shows one hand covering most of a face, expresses a sense of honesty emerging. In each successive panel, faces and hands show more openness, culminating in a panel in which a face is fully visible and two hands are palms up, in a gesture of giving.

Arthur Wallenstein, director of the corrections department, told the crowd that the painting was a symbol of the positive effect that creating art can have on inmates.

"In most correctional institutions, it would have been considered an intrusion," he said of Class Acts' Project Youth ArtReach, which provides juveniles in detention, corrections and probation settings with programs taught by master artists. "In our institution, we consider it a human growth opportunity."

"Programs like this diminish violence. They give people something meaningful to do," he said. "They're not fluff at all."

Project director Claire Schwadron noted that, in addition to providing a creative outlet, the program introduces young people to other cultures and helps break down differences by teaching them collaboration.

Participating "gives them a chance to understand what they have in common with each other," she said.

The mural ended up at Northwood because the Arts and Humanities Council of Montgomery County, which helped fund the $10,000 project, wanted the artwork in a public school, officials said.

Northwood was chosen because it has a diverse student population and its main office, with high white walls, had the best display space, Schwadron said.

The decision delighted Johnson, who said before the unveiling that "we wanted it badly." "I think the panels represent all young people in all our schools today," he said. "I think every child that looks at it will see some part of themselves in it."

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