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Painting for peace: Boston children turn to art to heal

Scott Oxhorn

Children and their parents gathered in Dorchester, Mass., last weekend to paint a 100-foot-long banner in memory of Martin Richard, the 8-year-old boy killed in last week's bombings at the Boston Marathon.

BOSTON -- With song, brushes and buckets of paint, children in Boston are using the arts to try to express feelings about last week's marathon bombings for which even their parents do not have words.

"Painting for Peace” was inspired by 8-year-old Martin Richard, the youngest person killed in the attack near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Parents and their children turned out last weekend in Dorchester, Mass., the Richard family's home, to paint a 100-foot-long roll of wallpaper with swirls of color and the message held up on an art project by the gap-toothed boy in a picture that went around the world last week: "No more hurting people. Peace."

"It was just the most obvious message that was on everybody's minds," said Liz Carney, who organized the project with her group Dot Art. "We were seeing that image and that message everywhere. A message about peace had a really important place in our response, in our community."

The sign now greets drivers passing under the Savin Hill Bridge over Interstate 93 heading into Boston. About 25 to 50 volunteers of all ages showed up to help create the banner, cards and other paintings and drawings over the weekend, Carney said.

"It was really a very heartfelt expression of peace and solidarity by our neighborhood," Carney said. "I had a lot of parents say how grateful they were to bring their kids to be a part of it, that the children in our community sometimes need a place to express things that are beyond words, and using their hands and having a place to tangibly put their energy is really important."

Boston-area children have turned to art projects like this one in Dorchester to help heal the wounds left by last week's marathon bombings.

Martin Richard’s sister Jane, 7, is among the 425 children from across the city who take singing lessons with the Boston City Singers. Not all of the youngest singers know all the details about the deadly blasts, but they know Jane was among the more than 260 people injured in the attack. Jane Richard lost a leg in the explosions; the children's mother, Denise, was seriously injured.

When a group of 4-to-6-year-old singers went back to Boston City Singers on Wednesday, parents were invited to stay if they wanted, managing director Melissa Graham said. Everything went well even when one little boy had a question about their missing classmate she said.

"One little boy said, 'Janie got hurt, is she going to be OK?'" Graham said. "And the conductor said, 'Yes, Janie is going to be OK. That was just an accident. Janie got hurt, she is going to be OK.'"

Boston City Singers charges tuition but does not turn away children on a financial basis, and makes up for costs with fundraising and grants, Graham said. The same way the children forget about whose parents have more money while making a song together, she said, maybe they will forget about the bombings for a little while when the youth choral group performs at "Children Sing for Peace" on Saturday at St. Mark Church in Dorchester.

The concert, which includes the Cambridge Children's Chorus and other local singing groups, will be about community and not about the bombs allegedly set off by brothers Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Other singers will come from the local Neighborhood House Charter School, which Jane and Martin attended and where their mother works.

"Song is one of those things that unites people," Graham said. "It gives the community a chance to feel like they are doing something."

The same need for expression was clear to Margery Buckingham when children came into the Dorchester Arts Collaborative on Tuesday. She said the week of arts and crafts she had planned for the 8-to-12-year-olds would not continue as though nothing had happened.

In a press conference a victim of the Boston Marathon bombing shares the story that left her with an amputated leg.

"One little girl said how she didn't sleep all night because she was so frightened," said Buckingham, education director at the collaborative, which fosters the arts in Dorchester.

Heidi Katz, an arts therapist from nearby Roxbury, Mass., came in on Thursday, Buckingham said. She did drawings and spoke with the children, and brought rhythm instruments for them to play. She asked the children where they felt safe.

"With most of our children it was at home and in church," Buckingham said. "And one little girl said, 'In my heart.'"

Buckingham called parents to let them known beforehand that the arts therapist would be coming, in case they did not want their children to participate. All the children showed up, and parents sent two more.

"It's something we have to do again," Buckingham said. "These feelings aren't going to go away."

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