My most recent experience with Art to help to make better people and eliminate antagonism and violence happened when I received a message through a friend on Facebook about Amanda Todd, a Vancouver teen, had killed herself October 10, 2012, one month shy of her 16th birthday after telling the world through a YouTube video of the years of bullying that ultimately led to her death. I watched Amanda’s heart-wrenching YouTube video that chronicled her bullying nightmare. I was deeply saddened by this, as a father of a son, and as a brother of a deceased sister, also bearing the name ‘Amanda’ and felt compelled to do “something.” Here’s a “Response Video” chronicling what I created in her honor: http://youtube.com/mbellart
I stretched a 4′ X 8′ canvas and began painting Amanda’s portrait that next morning, not really knowing why I was doing what I was doing, just knowing it was what I was supposed to do.
I shared Amanda’s video with kids in my National Art Honor Society at a local high school, and the painting I started. They too were deeply saddened and also felt that compelling feeling to “do something.” As an artist, you’re never quite prepared to handle the responsibility of giving form and meaningful expression to something so tragic, but this is how her portrait was born. I invited the kids I shared the portrait I started with to make it a collaboration piece and before I knew it there was five people painting it at once.
Word spread throughout the school so I came up with the idea of everyone filling the background with their own handprints, painted different shades of purple in honor of purple being our National Bullying Awareness Color. By noon I had a line out my Studio door of students coming in to put their hand print on the canvas to show support for Amanda and her family.
If nothing else, we created a school-wide conversation about Empathy that day, and I shipped the painting to her mother as a gift. Her Mom said, “I have lost one child, but know she wanted her story to save 1,000 more.”
I hope people will take note of what we did will take a moment to sit next to that kid in lunch that’s by themselves, step in and do something before things get too far with someone being bullied. No one should have to go through what Amanda Todd and so many others go through on a daily basis.