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Audience breaks their silence at youth-designed art exhibit

The public art display may be gone but the journey of empowering girls and raising awareness in the community has just begun.

The Burnaby Youth Custody Center's Passion Project art exhibit was displayed at UBC Robson Square in downtown Vancouver from December 20 to January 15.

The girls involved with the project asked that the public participate in their artwork by leaving letters, poetry or stories of how forgiveness and acceptance have impacted their own personal lives. This was the girls' way of giving back to the community.

The responses were nothing less than moving.

Some people left drawings and notes for the girls to read, and others left poetry and stories. 

It's hard to say how many viewed the art pieces, but there were over 50 notes left on site. They were written by girls, women and men from as far away as New York, Montreal and Kamloops. Many were also left by Vancouverites.

Every few days, I went down to the site after work to look in the box for contributions. Each time, I would pull a few of the papers out, read them, and then add them to the woman figures. Each time, I was left speechless.

The words and drawings were moving. One contributor expressed, "I spent years cutting myself. I have 400 scars. Should I have them removed by surgery or accept them?"

Others sent messages of encouragement to the young women.

"Your representation of women is a solid insightful statement of our society. We need to encourage creativity and to give everyone an opportunity to explore their inner 'selfs.' I, as a man, am equally inspired," wrote Mahood from Kamloops.

Another wrote, "Thank you for your honesty. Your art is inspiring. Forgiving ourselves is hard work, yes, but we're worth are SO worth it. May you be free of suffering. May your hearts be full of love and light. With Love."

To all the people who came to visit and who took the time to contribute, we thank you. We are truly touched.

Without your contributions and the donation of space from the UBC Robson Square team, the project's success would not have been the same.

The art figures are now back at the Burnaby Youth Custody Centre where they will be displayed. All girls who are still in custody will have the opportunity to see their art pieces with the community's notes.

On Tuesday, I met one of the girls for a coaching session. I shared with her some of the remarks. She read them, sat in silence for a short while and said, "That's pretty darn cool. All these people got to be a part of this."

I explained to her how these people's courage to change had a ripple effect on the community and asked her to imagine for a minute how these lives might have been moved because of it. She smiled in silence.

But the closing of this project is not the end of the movement. The Passion Foundation has a goal of reaching 400 young women this year in communities across British Columbia.

We are encouraging schools, community groups and institutions to get a group of young women together and contact us at 604-395-7685 for
more details.

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