Young Artists, Summer Focus participate in Peace Box project

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Summer Focus artists proudly display their Peace Box ribbons. From left are Aliyah Sewell, Kaiya Carlton and Rachel Philpot.

Begun by a New York artist in 2006, the Peace Box project has had many different flavors as it has unfurled.

Locally, the project has involved two groups of young people, as well as a church and a department store. Now the boxes are on display at the Centre for Performing and Visual Arts on Lower Fayetteville Road.

One of the Centre's galleries is filled with the boxes. Along one wall are the words 'The Peace Project.' Also on display are two boxes created by Franck de Las Mercedes, the artist who envisioned and launched the Peace Box effort.

Those de Las Mercedes boxes have been donated to the Centre's permanent collection.

Belk at Ashley Park donated shirt boxes which were covered in white paper and then decorated with peace themes by students in the Young Artists program through the Coweta County Recreation Department and the Summer Focus part icipants in Luthersville. Summer Focus is held each summer by the American Union Relief Society - offering educational experiences, recreation and a noon meal three days a week at the Luthersville Municipal Complex.

The overall project locally was sponsored by Allen-Lee Memorial United Methodist Church in Lone Oak.

Seven years ago, de Las Mercedes began painting and sending the boxes from his small studio in a New York City suburb in New Jersey to anyone who asks for one more than seven years ago. The artist was born in Nicaragua and grew up in New York City.

'To date there have been 12,300 boxes sent – and counting,' said Nicola Blount, director of FdLM Studio.

Several months ago, a member at Allen-Lee requested a box. The box - and the concept behind it - morphed into a much larger project. Church members Nancy Lee and Winston Skinner, who is a Times-Herald staff member, were assigned to plan a Fantastic Fifth Sunday service for June 30.

That service became Peace Box Sunday with boxes being displayed, and the youthful artists who created the winning entries being recognized. A hot dog lunch followed the service.

The Best in Show ribbon went to Amelia Rivers, a Young Artist. Her design incorporated a place she has visited in New Zealand and the idea of finding places of peace.

Rivers, 13, reflected on the New Zealand experience. 'We saw such amazing things, such beautiful landscapes, such nice people,' she said.

Her box design includes a peace sign modified to show the islands in New Zealand where she and her family visited. Surrounding the focal point on the box are names of people she met during her sojourn.

Rivers said she found New Zealand 'a peaceful place where I could feel at home.'

This past year was Rivers' first to take art from Bette Hickman, who has taught the Young Artists for years. 'She makes it so much fun. She always has room for more ideas,' the teen artist said. 'When we're finished, she encourages us to add more.'

Summer Focus winners were Aliyah Sewell, first; Kaiya Carlton, second; and Rachel Philpot, second. In addition to the best-in-show, ribbons presented to Young Artists were, first, Aileen Cox; second, Mikaylee Bonner and Taitum Boston.

Honorable mention boxes were also chosen. Judges were Allen-Lee members Susan Banks and Lynn Skinner and Chad Hill, the church's pastor.

Hickman spent a day in Luthersville leading the Summer Focus participants through the steps to design and create a Peace Box. She also attended the June 30 service at Allen-Lee, where she spoke and was presented with a gift from the church. Hill talked about the Peace Box project during his sermon. 'It was designed to make us think about peace, and that's what it did with the children,' he said. 'We made a difference.'

Hill said peace is 'fragile … something we have to work for.'

de Las Mercedes created the Peace Box project somewhat by accident. Hill said the artist was cleaning his brushes on boxes that he would then use to mail more traditional artistic pieces. When de Las Mercedes took a paint splattered box to the post office to mail, the clerk 'commented on the box, how wonderful it was,' Hill said.

The experience made de Las Mercedes think about 'how the power of art interrupted somebody's daily routine,' Hill said. While boxes generally made people want to see what is inside, de Las Mercedes saw that 'here the actual gift is on the outside of the box,' Hill noted.

de Las Mercedes then decided to pair the brightly colored boxes with the concept of peace. 'He wanted you to look at the box and to think about peace. He wanted nothing to be in the box because peace is nothing, but peace is everything,' the pastor reflected.

In his June 30 sermon, Hill said peace comes from Jesus Christ and can be shared by those who follow Him. 'How would we obtain this peace?' he asked. 'It starts out with us.'

He pondered the significance of the boxes being empty. He said adults often fill the boxes of their lives with negative things - hatred, resentment, anger. 'We have to empty our boxes at the feet of Jesus,' Hill said. 'Share love to the world, and we can change the world. We can be peace.'

Amelia Rivers had her own thoughts about the significance of the empty boxes celebrating the cherished ideal. The boxes, she said, 'assure people who don't have peace that there is peace.'



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