WELLFLEET — Sara Blandford wanted this year’s theme for the Martin Luther King Day Youth Art Show to be more than just a feel-good truism. She saw it as a call to action. And so, the theme — “Taking a Stand Against Racism and Discrimination!” — is a response to incidents of “name-calling, racial slurs, and bullying along racial lines” that Blandford says students across the Cape face.
“Hurtful things are happening on the playground, or in the hallway, or at lunch,” she says. “What can we do about that?”
The Wellfleet therapist was struck in recent months by stories she had been hearing from clients and neighbors that kids are experiencing racism at school. “And in not-so-subtle ways,” she says. She saw a chance to address it.
Blandford is on the coordinating committee for ArtPeaceMakers, a grassroots group that organizes Wellfleet’s MLK Day observances and other arts and nonviolence events. The Youth Art Show, one of the offerings, is at Wellfleet Preservation Hall from Jan. 6 to 31.
“It felt like this art show isn’t just an art show,” she says. “It’s an opportunity for kids to process some of the things that they have observed and experienced.”
The exhibit mounts 47 pieces of art from Cape Cod kids of all ages — and some adults. “We had a number of adult artists asking if they could submit work,” Blandford says. “We weren’t going to turn art away. If anybody has something to say about taking a stand against racism and discrimination, then bring it.”
Grace LePage, age 9, and her brother, Daniel LePage, age 14, of Dennis were drawn in by their grandmother, Brenda Silva, a Provincetown artist.
In Grace’s painting, hands with different color skin hold up the Earth. “Everybody should be one,” she says. “Everybody is the same if we don’t have skin on us. We have the same bones.”
Daniel hopes that his piece, a scene of fish of many colors swimming together, shows that “everybody is the same, and that colors don’t matter,” he says.
Blandford hopes that the show will inspire deep and provoking conversations between parents and children and between teachers and students.
“The art show is an opportunity to acknowledge that racism and discrimination are still present in our community,” she says. “By talking about it, we can find ways to intervene and create a community that’s free of harassment.”
Breanna LePage, Grace and Daniel’s mom, says she has been having more conversations with her children about racism. When they lived in Sandwich, someone tagged the high school with swastikas. “We talked about supporting our Jewish friends and standing up for them,” Breanna says. “It ended up bringing a lot of people together.”
Grace says that if she saw a peer being treated unkindly, she would stick up for them. “If it is my friend, and she is a different color and someone is bullying her,” she says, “I would stand up for her.”
This is the response to this year’s art show Blandford imagines. She hopes it will inspire a deeper commitment to confronting and resolving issues of racism in the community, through conversations and even community training sessions. “It’s very hard to know how to respond in the moment when an injustice is happening,” Blandford says. But she envisions that in-person training could prepare people with practiced reactions.
Breanna LePage believes it is the older generations’ responsibility to instill compassion and a sense of justice in those who are younger. “Racism is a chain that has never been broken,” she says. “Children are not born like that; we sculpt our children in our molds.
“If we raise our children to have empathy, sensitivity, and a heart to forgive, we can heal all wounds,” she says.
MLK Day festivities in Wellfleet also include a virtual breakfast with featured speakers at 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 16 and a silent walking meditation starting at Town Hall at 1 p.m., with a drum circle preceding the march at 12:30 p.m. This year will be the 21st anniversary of the MLK Day walk in Wellfleet, which hosts the largest celebration of the civil rights leader on the Outer Cape.