Last Wednesday West End House hosted Esperanza; A Celebration of Hope and Healing Through Art, an interactive visual arts exhibit featuring a collaborative, community quilt and individual textile pieces designed by our youth artists. The exhibit was the culmination of a seven week program with our summer Artist in Residence Susan Thompson. Susan, an accomplished textile, fiber, and mixed media artist and arts educator in the Greater Boston area proposed creating two quilts with our young people that would embrace the meaning of Esperanza – hope, celebrating both a sense of hope and a sense of healing.

Susan worked closely with two Learning Hubs to teach them the history and traditions of quilting, even bringing in examples of her own work as an art quilter. Each week the youth were exposed to a variety of mixed media art techniques including collage and printmaking, that would be incorporated into their finished quilt block. Our young artists learned how to create Styrofoam printing plates, how to create a portrait using crayon resist on fabric, how to marble fabric with shaving cream, and the final piece of the project, sewing.  Sewing was a tremendous challenge that many of our youth enjoyed immensely. 

The two part culmination Esperanza event began with an in house showcase where each of our five fall Learning Hubs had an opportunity to walk through and view the exhibit, as well as watch a video and slide show detailing the creation of the exhibition, which featured youth sharing their experiences throughout the entire creative process. For the second part of the event there was a reception open to the greater West End House community. Esperanza Project Manager and former West End House Visual Arts Director Lindsey Kocur did a Q&A session with Artist in Residence, Susan Thompson asking her to reflect upon the experience of Esperanza with West End House youth. Susan said the entire process was one of working together and healing together, for both her and the youth. Susan also said the young artists were very engaged in what was for many, new experiences, such as print making, working with textiles and sewing. One completely new experience for both Susan and the youth was the process of producing the fabric that was used in the quilts. The 7 week project was a very in the moment process and all of the youth artists fully embraced the theme of hope and healing. Susan hopes that some of the youth participants take up quilting or textiles as a hobby or even as a career.

Following the Q&A, three of our youth artists Shanell, Caroline and Victor, shared their individual squares and experiences making them, from the colors they chose to the techniques they enjoyed learning the most. Marbling fabric with shaving cream seemed to be a top technique, favored for its messy nature. Youth artist Victor spoke of the representation of both Guatemala, his home country, and also West End House, his second home. The piece he made is in remembrance of the memories made in Guatemala and also the new ones he is making here at West End House. There was also an opportunity for questions and discussion with each youth artist.

West End House staff and artists hope viewers will experience a sense of joy when they look at these quilts. The quilt blocks represent the creative expression of a young person who tried something new and different, something they had never done before, truly immersing themselves in the creative process and getting out of their comfort zone. The outcome, multiple quilt squares of individual artwork combined together to create a large collaborative, community quilt, is a spectacular example of their efforts. The quilts are truly a celebration of hope anhealing.

Thank you to West End House Artist in Residence Susan Thompson, and all West End House staff involved in the process, including Artist in Residence Project Manager Lindsey Kocur, Senior Director of Visual and Performing Arts Nadine Martinez, Visual Arts Coordinator Teresa Santana, and Youth Outreach and Social Recreation Specialist Erick Ramirez. Thank you to the parents of West End House young artists for trusting us with your children and their creative endeavors. Thank you to the Richard K. Lubin Family Foundation, the Linde Family Foundation, The Klarman Family Foundation, and the Eric & Jane Nord Family Fund for supporting this initiative.