Human trafficking highlighted in exhibit at Phillips Gallery
Numerous paintings created by area youths, and some adults, will cover the walls of Phillips Gallery through the end of July. The canvas paintings all share a similar, powerful message about human trafficking and its effects.
The gallery, at BIG ARTS Center, 900 Dunlop Road, is open from noon to 2 p.m. Monday and from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. On Wednesday, July 22, at 3:30 p.m. Human Trafficking Awareness Partnership, Inc. will hold a special reception featuring a short program and light refreshments at the gallery.
HTAP Executive Director Nola Theiss said the July event will display the students paintings from Resurrection of the Lord Catholic Church, Our Mothers Home, Pine Manor Association, Lehigh Acres and Bonita Springs Boys and Girls Club in the center of the gallery .
“We will also invite the other organizations which have hosted ARTREACH programs over the last five years,” she said of The Heights Center and other Boys & Girls Clubs. “We are also interested in having community members. We especially invite Zonta, Rotary, St. Michael’s and the Congregational Church members who have supported ARTREACH.”
One of the many paintings that will be featured during the Wednesday, July 22, event was created in 2014 by youth of Our Mother’s Home titled “Beneath the Surface.” The brightly colored octopus’ tentacles have a firm grasp around a different fish that all have human faces. “People don’t know how prevalent human trafficking is because it happens beneath the surface,” the description reads. “This octopus represents how predators trap their victims and take them into the darkness that’s human trafficking.”
The ARTREACH program has expanded, Theiss said as a result of the biggest human trafficking case taking place in Florida in March when 17 traffickers were arrested. She said a good number of the victims were from Lee and Collier counties.
The case broke, Theiss said, when women victims of the violent crime sought help for custody of their child. She said when the stories of the victims were found to be similar, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement became involved.
“Six victims have been identified and they are all in recovery and have jobs,” Theiss said.
Thirty-percent of children are trafficked by family members, she said, and 11 percent are sought out by strangers who offer the child something they feel they do not have or give them compliments.
The ARTREACH program began in February 2010 as an effort to help spread what kind of dangers are associated with human trafficking, as well as raise awareness of the crime. The program is offered for youngsters 8 and older over a five-day session where they spend time creating a canvas collaboratively depicting what they learned about human trafficking.
“We are telling the kids they can have an impact because they are big,” Theiss said of the canvas paintings. “They are creating actual art.”
Three or four children work together on the same canvas, which many times include a border representing a message that is told within the main masterpiece.
Theiss pointed to a painting at the gallery with feet outlining the canvas sharing the message that human trafficking has a never- ending cycle of running away and the hand within the painting represents never being able to get away.
ARTREACH began with three programs the first year and grew to 10 programs last year. The program, she said, has touched the lives of immigrant and first generation children; foster; African American; Haitian; Latino and domestic kids.
“All those groups need special attention,” Theiss said.
She said they feel it is important to also protect domestic kids who are U.S. citizens because they are also placed in situations where human trafficking can take place. Theiss said the scenario can stem from a simple conversation that is led with the question, “are you here by yourself.” The question, Theiss said most times leads to further information shared and an invitation to meet for the second time.
Each of the at-risk youngsters participating in ARTREACH receive a kit of basic supplies that they can take home. They also walk away with a large post card that has pictures of them working on the canvas, a reproduced image of the final canvas painting and an interpretation of what the painting means.
The facility that hosts the program, also receives a banner with the image the kids created.
Theiss said they recently received a grant from the Bob Rauschenberg Foundation, which awarded HTAP with the opportunity to hire an art instructor and a curriculum director. With an art instructor, she said they can now teach the kids some simple tools to become better painters.
HTAP began on Sanibel because Theiss wanted to build awareness on the topic of human trafficking while getting the community and kids involved in spreading the message.
For more information about HTAP, visit www.humantraffickingawareness.org.