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Local artists teach kids how performance and visual art can squash conflict

Two child hands pass red and green string through a fence
Provided | Intersect Arts Center
Intersect Arts Center students pass string through a fence in a tactile arts project.

Sarah Bernhardt was seeing a lot of conflict in her south St. Louis neighborhood — moving between day-to-day destinations, and between the kids in her after-school arts program.

Wanting to help foster understanding between young people and their communities, Bernhardt started the Resolve Youth Art Camp for Violence Prevention. It begins Monday at the Intersect Arts Center, 3630 Ohio Ave., where she is the director.

Berhardt and her team of instructors will teach 8- to 14-year-olds how to use dance, photography, and hip-hop to avoid violence in their daily lives.

"Because of the significant amount of physical violence happening, it makes sense to address it among youth," she said. "If you don’t live to be 18 because you’ve been shot, it’s important to address it at a younger age."

The center has been running after-school programs and adult classes for three years, but this is the first time it’s hosting a camp focusing on conflict. In video interviews from the last school year, students said fighting was the biggest struggle in their lives. They also reflected on how important safe spaces are for them. That inspired Berhardt, a photographer, to recruit other local artists. Dancers from groups like Leverage Dance Theater will work with kids at the camp on developing tools to handle verbal and physical disputes.

"I think it's an important part of education to communicate effectively with one another — conflict is going to be a part of life — so learning to resolve that at a young age makes a lot of sense in a fundamental human way," she said. 

Four kids paint houses and other pictures on a grass background.
Credit Provided | Intersect Arts Center
Students at the Resolve Youth Art Camp For Violence Prevention will work with visual and performance arts.

Why use art as a solution for fighting? For Tori Abernathy, a camp instructor who teaches self-publishing and zine-making, if arguments are the breakdown of communication, art can be the bridge to getting your message across, whether you’re young or grown.

"These two concepts have a lot of natural overlap. Conflict resolution involves understanding how to tap into your emotions more fluidly. It involves communicating emotion to others," Abernathy said.  "We can all benefit from understanding fair and equitable ways to negotiate our emotions and feelings with others, and part of that is learning how to deal with conflict. I think it’s an especially important skill for youth.” 

The camp will end Saturday with a party at Intersect Arts, where the students will share what they learned with the community.