ARMSTRONG — In grade school, Caitlin Brewer was often teased and taunted by classmates. She cut herself to deal with the pain.
Then at the urging of caring adults, Brewer found another way to do that. She began writing about her feelings in a collection of poems.
"I'm not very good at showing my emotions," said Brewer, an Armstrong High School senior. "Writing lets me express what I'm feeling inside. It makes me feel better."
This semester, Brewer compiled some of her poems into a project called "The Book of Secrets" for the I Sing the Body Electric program. It will be featured at the program's ninth annual Arts and Health Festival at Danville Area Community College on Sunday.
The exhibit will feature about 150 pieces of health-based art projects created by students from 10 Vermilion County high schools, Danville schools' Kenneth D. Bailey Academy, DACC's College Express program and Young Women Aware. Art work includes drawings, paintings, sculptures, photography, creative writing, digital videos and more.
"Each year, we're amazed by students' creativity and astounded by their candor," said Dottie McLaughlin, coordinator of the health education and prevention initiative made possible through Presence United Samaritans Medical Center Foundation and community partners.
The exhibit is the culmination of the I Sing the Body Electric's second phase, in which students are challenged to channel their feelings and creativity into art to combat health risks identified in the program's first phase, a comprehensive survey of the majority of high school students in Vermilion County.
In the third phase, the art projects are taken on tours to fifth- through 12th-grade students in public and private schools throughout the county. That will take place in the coming school year.
"By creating these truly interesting pieces of art, they really open up about their experiences and personal issues they're dealing with," McLaughlin said. "They're empowering themselves and helping other young people. They're showing kids, who may be going through the same thing, that they're not alone and that they can make good, healthy choices."
In Armstrong, about 30 students, including several who aren't taking art, created projects, teacher Jennifer Heidrick said. They tackled topics such as anorexia, drug and alcohol abuse, rape, violence, depression, suicide, bullying and being yourself.
Juniors Rose Paz and Lance Fulton made a 3-D piece of art resembling an X-ray, called "On the Inside." You look through a healthy-looking body, painted on Plexiglas, to see a chalk pencil drawing of a skeleton and a bleeding, red heart on canvas.
Fulton said it represents the friends he has who appear to be OK, even happy, but are hurting because they're being bullied or struggling with depression.
"It's to show people how what they say can really affect someone, even if they laugh about it or shrug it off," Fulton said.
Tayla Van Ostrand did three projects. Her favorite, "Pro Life," is a miniature clay sculpture of baby in a box. The box is covered with statistics she found when, at 17, she learned she was pregnant and considered having an abortion, and a poem about choosing to have her daughter, Saylor, instead.
At first, "I felt like I'm still a kid, and I don't want to be a kid raising a kid," recalled Van Ostrand, now 18. But through her research, she said, she decided, "they're a beating heart. I felt that taking her life just so I could live mine wasn't worth it."
Heidrick said she learned a lot about her students through their projects. She hopes the art projects and program remind people how important art is to young people.
"It's often one of the first programs to go during budget cuts," she said. "But I feel it's such a great outlets for kids and can keep them from making bad choices and turning to drugs and alcohol or risky behavior. It's letting them express themselves in way that's helpful, and it's helpful for other to see it, too."
The I Sing the Body Electric Arts & Health Festival will be held from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at Vermilion Hall, Room 306, at Danville Area Community College, 2000 E. Main St., Danville.
It is free and open to the public.
The health-based art projects, created by Vermilion County high school students, will be critiqued by judges. Winners will be announced at the festival at 3:30 p.m.