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Children Urged to Create Art from September 11 Emotions

A museum and a children's mental health study center in New York have joined together to create an emotionally-charged exhibit featuring children's art. The children were urged to create the art to help them express their feelings about the terrorist attacks of last year.

Looking at pictures drawn by young people at the Museum of the City of New York helps us understand what went on in the minds of children in the days and weeks following September 11.

Twelve-year old Pearl Newman depicts the flaming towers of the World Trade Center with small stick figures falling out of the buildings, yelling "Help." Two stick figures hold a net below, as if it were possible to save people jumping out of a skyscraper. Also in the picture is a plane headed for the second tower, with "Ha Ha Ha" written above - representing the hijackers laughing at their evil deed.

Robert Macdonald is Director of the Museum of the City of New York, where Pearl's work is featured. He says the images created by these children have a clarity he has not seen in the photographs, videos, and news articles, produced by adults. "This [exhibit] documents this event in a way unlike any other documentation. New York University Child Study Center was interested because art is also therapy. It is a way for young people, and adults, to work out their feelings," he says.

The New York University Child Study Center and the museum are partners in the exhibit called "The Day Our World Changed: Children's Art of 9-11." Dr. Robin Goodman of the center says art is a way for children to openly confront what may sometimes seem outside the realm of words. "Children sometimes are a lot less self-conscious," she says. "They also, you know, have great access to their imagination and they often can use the language of images when the verbal language fails them."

But some of the art uses language with powerful effect. For example, a picture by 11-year old Mercia Noel Suga has just one word that describes what the child must have felt. She drew an American flag with the word "Nervous" written across its stripes, in large multi-colored letters.

Mr. Macdonald says the works speak for themselves, and for New Yorkers as well. "There is emotion here," he says. "There is clarity. There is anger. There is hope. This show really expresses best what September 11 has meant to New York City."

The museum director says the 83 pieces of art in the show were selected from hundreds of submissions by school children, ranging from 5 to 18 years old.

The exhibit is divided into sections - "The Attack," "The City Mourns," "Heroes and Helpers," "Memories and Tributes," and a fifth section which the show's curator, Andrea Henderson Fahnestock, says really captures the resilience of children. "The final section is called "Hope and Renewal" and that was really the most surprising section, that so soon after the event there were kids who had optimism about the future for New York and they did images of people coming together and working as a team, and there is a wonderful drawing of dinosaurs rebuilding downtown Manhattan," she says. "They were already thinking about how to rebuild our city."

The dinosaurs in 7-year-old Julian Cortez and 8-year-old Paul Keim's picture are accompanied by policemen, doctors, and construction workers as they rebuild the new World Trade Center.

Dr. Goodman says the creative activity that went into these drawings is powerful and a constructive response to a destructive act. But, she says, children are sensitive and adults must be aware of the fine lines, both in the pictures, and in reality. "Remembering is a great thing. Reliving is what we do not want people to do. There is no value in repeating things because that will make you relive it and with young children we know it adds to their stress," she says.

After its run in New York, the show will travel around the United States. The pictures can also be seen in an accompanying book and on the Internet.