ArtFul Living

By Michelle “Mike” Ochonicky
Healthy Planet Arts Editor

Art is often equated with beauty.
Surely, art is that — but art is much, much more.

For centuries, art has questioned, inspired, drawn attention to various concerns of societies and governments —uncomfortable topics that, perhaps, only the arts can address. For example, who can stand before Goya’s “Disasters of War” print series (currently on display in St. Louis Art Museum’s “Impressions of War” exhibition) and not feel the anguish of the French occupation of Spain? As I reviewed what is presented in the arts this month, I realized that some of those serious topics seem to be September’s focus.

Outside In: Paint for Peace is a collaborative community exhibition at multiple locations in the metro area. The exhibitions showcase the power of the arts through many of the murals painted on boarded-up storefronts following the 2014 protests in Ferguson.

Created by professional and amateur artists, the works speak of powerful emotions. Locations to see the works include COCA’s Millstone Gallery, Gallery 210 at UMSL, Missouri History Museum, Vaughn Cultural Center and Ferguson Youth Initiative. The Sheldon Art Galleries hosts some of the works starting on October 7.

It takes the performing arts to look at the experience of being a stranger or even just as the new kid at a school. Metro Theater Company offers a play by just that name. New Kid, by Dennis Foon. Starting September 19 as a touring performance in schools throughout the area, it’s the heart-tugging story of Nick, whose family just moved to the United States. Nick cannot communicate, is hopelessly out of place, as he tries to make new friends on his first day of school. His clothes, his lunch and even his confusion become the targets of classmates’ jokes. Nick’s pain all too evident as he travels a journey to be accepted and understood, recognizable by anyone who has ever been new to a place or circumstance. Adults and children will find new ways to discuss such topics as inclusion, diversity — and maybe just simple kindness.

The play won Best Production at the Dublin (Ireland) Theatre Festival and the British Theatre Award. To book the play at your child’s school (recommended for grades 2-8), contact Metro Theater Company at 314-932-7414, ext.106. It just might make us all a bit more sensitive to what others endure.

Being a stranger in a strange place can be an awful situation. Multiply that feeling by the fact that “you can’t go home.” Gitana Productions tackles this theme with “New World,” an original one-act play about three women refugees from Afghanistan, Bosnia and the Republic of the Congo, October 1-2 (I’m mentioning it now, so you don’t miss it!). The play is based on interviews with refugee women, in collaboration with the Center for Survivors of War and Torture (a mental health agency).

Gitana Productions is known for its great world-music concerts, but also addresses very serious topics in its plays. Not a light-hearted look at what these women have endured, New World tells audiences a story that must be told, and must be understood.

Response was so great to New World’s debut in February 2016 that it is included as part of the annual St. Louis Arts Experience, at Nahed Chapman New American Academy, 1616 S. Grand (the Gallaudet Bldg). Ticket info at www.gitana-inc.org.

The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that 5 million people currently live with some form of memory loss or dementia. That’s a disturbing number, even more painful for those who have loved ones enduring these terrible conditions. We all hope for and await some scientific discoveries to help. But what to do while we wait?

“I Remember Better When I Paint,” 2009, was the “first international documentary about the positive impact of art and other creative therapies on people with Alzheimer’s.” Presented by French Connection Films and Hilgos Foundation, the film by Eris Ellena and Berna Huebner studied how art might change memory-loss and dementia treatment. The findings are intriguing, especially seeing the impact that art can have on memory (View it, if you haven’t yet).

Laumeier Sculpture Park offers a one-hour, interactive Early Memory Loss Tour: The Museum Lawn, on September 28. Participants, along with a care partner, will be led by Laumeier Docents, trained by the Alzheimer’s Association of St. Louis. It’s a fun opportunity for exercise and interaction in an art-filled setting. According to Laumeier’s guidelines, participants stand and walk up to 45 minutes. Paths are wheelchair and walker-accessible; hats and sunglasses are strongly recommended. Please dress appropriately for the season, including comfortable shoes for walking; some pathways may be uneven.

A $10 fee includes one care partner with one participant. Tour meets at 1:00 p.m. in the Public Plaza outside the Adam Aronson Fine Arts Center in the park, 12580 Rott Road. Call 314.615.5278 or visit www.laumeier.org for more information.