Grief Unmasked

On view March 19 – May 16, 2020

Opening Reception | Thursday, March 19 | 5pm *This event is postponed. A new date will be announced soon.

Rochester Art Center is hosting a very special collaboration with the Center for Grief Education and Support (CGES)/Seasons Hospice. CGES developed grief support groups in all three Rochester public high schools and two middle schools, open to students who have suffered a loss due to death. In collaboration with the school counselors and art teachers, CGES initiated mask making as a way to create a personal, visual expression of grief to depict their loss. The children’s masks and their own written testimonies will fill a third-floor gallery space including photos and a video of interviews with the children by documentarian John Kaul, who has been photographing and videotaping the students throughout the process. Please join us for a celebration of their work and experience the power of their expression.

CGES  is very active in the community, serving people well beyond our hospice families. In fact, at least 50% of our bereavement clients are from the general community with no prior hospice experience with Seasons Hospice.  Two years ago, the director of CGES, Heidi Smith, developed grief support groups in all three Rochester public high schools and two Rochester middle schools. The groups meet once per week and are open to any student who has suffered a loss due to death.

The mask project came about last year when Heidi kept hearing the students tell her that their time in the grief group was the one period in their week when they could “take off their masks” and talk about their true feelings related to their loss.  In collaboration with the school counselors and art teachers, CGES initiated the mask project whereby the children would take a blank mask form and create a personal, visual expression of their grief using paint, decorative objects, ribbon, string or other materials to depict their loss.  There was a poignant story behind every mask and most students wrote an accompanying narrative.

The value of this project is multi-dimensional.  It has given these students an opportunity to express their deep feelings about the loss(es) they have suffered in a way that’s tangible, creative and hopefully, therapeutic.  It has allowed them to give voice to and validate their grief, when so often, friends and family may find it difficult to talk to them about their loss for a variety of reasons ranging from protection to simply wanting them to be their “old self” once again.

This exhibition demonstrates RAC’s continued effort to create positive collaborations and outreach with the Rochester community as well as show the power of art to change lives.