Urbana school art project to illuminate domestic violence issue

Urbana school art project to illuminate domestic violence issue

URBANA — By Monday, 24 painted umbrellas suspended from chains and lit from behind at Urbana Middle School will show that young people are vulnerable to domestic violence, and that the issue needs to be illuminated.

Twenty-four eighth-graders in a leadership group called Students Have Voice have been learning about domestic violence and used that knowledge to create the umbrellas.

The umbrellas will soon become the school's first art installation.

An opening is scheduled for Monday. 

The students have been working with Amy Sponsler, an artist and a social worker at the Center for Women in Transition in Champaign, in learning about domestic violence and on the umbrella art project.

Urbana Middle School social worker Steve Higgins said he contacted the Center for Women in Transition about a year ago, and Sponsler started the collaboration by simply presenting information to students.

She was thinking of ways to teach students about the wheel of power and control, which was developed to describe eight common ways abusers control their victims in intimate relationships.

Sponsler was strolling through a dollar store when she opened an umbrella and realized that, like the wheel, it was made up of eight triangles.

She found it an interesting surface to paint on, and the art installation idea was born from there.

Sponsler said those between the ages of 17 and 24 are particularly vulnerable to violence in a relationship, so teaching eighth-graders, who are 13 and 14, now helps to educate them. They're also at an age where they start to notice relationships, said school district spokeswoman JoAnne Geigner.

Higgins said these students are able to influence their peers, and now, they have plenty of knowledge to help their classmates understand domestic violence.

"We don't acknowledge kids as a resource as well as we could," Higgins said.

The students' umbrellas were created with acrylic paint. Both the middle school and the Center for Women in Transition helped pay for the materials to make them.

Maggie Shea's umbrella is covered with dozens of painted handprints, both hers and her classmates'.

She liked that her umbrella shows everyone working together to create a shield, as can those who care about a victim of domestic violence.

She said she learned a lot about the topic while working with Sponsler.

"I didn't know dating violence was a real thing and it really happens," she said, adding that now she knows the signs of an abusive relationship.

Naomi Mosley's umbrella features several words and phrases, like care, respect, talk, boundary, no harm and love, "because love makes the world go 'round."

Her umbrella also mentions the community of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning, because they, too, experience violence in dating relationships.

Mosley she learned that there are resources to help those who are victims in violent relationships.

Tyler Knispel and David Gable worked together to paint an umbrella with several symbols, including stars, to signify individuals involved in violent relationships, a heart to show love, red squiggles to show creativity and blue borders to signify sadness those involved might face.

Knispel said he learned domestic violence is common, and Gable said he learned that he can speak up to try and help if he sees such a situation.

"We want to do something to stop it," Gable said.

Shea and Mosley said they're also excited about creating the middle school's first art installation.

"No one has done something like this," Shea said.

"It's cool, to be the first," Mosley said.


Art opening

An art opening for the Urbana Middle School eighth-graders' umbrella art installation is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Monday.

The umbrellas will be lit and suspended from chains on an exterior wall of the school.

Those attending are asked to meet in the school's lobby. The school's address is 1201 S. Vine St., U.

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