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The Dallas LOVE Project: Honoring JFK’s Legacy Through Art

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by Mallory Ashcraft

Students, community members and artists from around the area are participating in the Dallas LOVE Project, which will honor the legacy of President John F. Kennedy through original works of art inspired by the quotes of peacemakers and influential figures. The art will be displayed at venues across Dallas. 

LOVE art hanging in the window of the 29 Pieces office, located at 124 North Peak Street, Dallas, Texas. Photo by David Guerra, Adventure Images.

Peace, love and art – that’s the message of the Dallas LOVE Project.

Across Dallas, students and residents of all ages have come together to create more than 30,000 original works of art inspired by the words of great peacemakers, artists and other figures for the Dallas LOVE Project. The artwork will be displayed at sites along the John F. Kennedy motorcade route until Nov. 30 as part of a citywide remembrance of the 50th anniversary of the president’s assassination.

“I hope it gets the message across that we’re not a city of hate, we’re a city of love,” said Madeline Anderson, a fifth grader at Dallas’ Parish Episcopal School, which participated in the project. Madeline said her piece included cut out hearts and the following quote by Mother Teresa: “Good works are links that form a chain of love.”

The Dallas LOVE Project is a part of 29 Pieces, a non-profit art initiative in Dallas started by artist Karen Blessen. Her goal with the LOVE Project is to turn Dallas into a citywide art gallery.

Blessen also co-founded the MasterPEACE Program, a project-based learning program for children. Students use the power of artistic expression to explore a concept, such as love, for the MasterPEACE lessons. They are then asked to talk about the meaning of their art.

The Dallas LOVE Project was developed from one of the MasterPEACE lessons.

“Part of what we do is also to ask kids to be able to articulate what they’re doing,” Blessen said. “And then we have worked very hard to get kids’ art displayed all over the city so that the students feel that pride of positive accomplishment. And we’ve seen little miracles happen over and over and over again with the kids we work with.”

Dallas’ Parish Episcopal School, which has contributed an estimated 650 pieces of art to the LOVE Project, has been involved with the MasterPEACE Program for the past six years.

Becky Crawford, director of experiential education and service learning at Parish, says that many of the students didn’t know much about the assassination and the social issues of the time, and that the history lesson behind the project inspired conversations about humanity and respect.

LOVE art created by a student at the Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School.

“Many of them really didn’t know anything about John F. Kennedy,” said Crawford. She also said that many students were shocked to learn that Dallas was a segregated city 50 years ago.

Students at the Irma Lerma Rangel Young Women’s Leadership School, another Dallas school participating in the LOVE Project, were also struck by the historical differences that characterized Dallas 50 years ago.

“So many of the social injustices that were so prevalent in Dallas in 1963 are unknown in their lives,” said Diana O’Connor, school librarian at the Rangel School.

The Rangel School, a Dallas ISD magnet school, was the first all-girls school in Texas. The student population is 70 percent Hispanic and about 19 percent African American, according to O’Connor. Students from the Rangel School contributed about 600 pieces of art to the LOVE Project.

LOVE art will be on display at sites across Dallas including at the Sixth Floor Museum, Parkland Hospital, the Dallas Public Library and other locations for the JFK anniversary.

Crawford was hanging LOVE art at Parkland Hospital one recent Saturday. She said she was amazed by the variety of pieces from many different artists. In addition to art made by students, there were also pieces created by senior citizens, church groups, refugee women and children, hospitalized children, professional artists and others.

“People are really expressing themselves, and wanting to,” she said. “And you know, I don’t think it’s just what happened 50 years ago, either.”

Crawford said she believes people are tired of violence, and that the LOVE Project and the JFK anniversary are allowing people to express themselves.

Each LOVE Project participant chooses a quote about love. The artist then interprets the quote and transfers it to an 18-by-18 inch poster board using materials such as construction paper, paint, markers and colored pencils.

Some popularly used quotes came from songs by The Beatles, especially the famous verse “All you need is love.” Other quotations came from figures including Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and John F. Kennedy.

O’Connor said that the teachers emphasized to students that their art represented a message to the community about love. She said that investing the students with this responsibility made the project more than just an art lesson.

“The impact that this can have on people is bigger than that,” she said.

Teachers often ask students to expand the messages of their MasterPEACE art into projects that address the bigger picture. In 2011, students from Parish, the Rangel School and Dallas’ Maya Angelou School for Pregnant and Parenting Teens teamed up and took a MasterPEACE lesson about homelessness one step further when they presented a plea to Mayor Mike Rawlings and the Dallas City Council.

“The kids felt like they had a voice,” said Crawford.

That project involved researching homelessness and thinking of possible solutions. Students displayed their information on signs made from cardboard which were placed on temporary display at Dallas City Hall.

O’Connor said that expanding MasterPEACE lessons into the community gives the students an authentic audience to view their art and makes a significant impact on the learning process.

Blessen’s inspiration for founding 29 Pieces and the MasterPEACE Program came after she was affected by violence when she witnessed a murder take place in the front yard of her Dallas home and couldn’t let it go.

“I had a strong desire to make the world better,” said Blessen, who gets her funding for the project from foundation grants, individual gifts and earned income.

She said she initially considered working with incarcerated criminals or victims. Ultimately, though, she decided to focus her efforts on preventing murders from happening by educating children about non-violence.

“I would rather work to try and build children before they make really bad impulsive decisions rather than trying to repair the damage after it’s done,” Blessen said.

To see a list of Dallas LOVE Project participants, venues and sponsors and a Google map of display venues, visit http://dallasloveproject.is

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