Healing and Strengthening Communities Through Art - We Raise Foundation

Healing and Strengthening Communities Through Art

Sarah Bernhardt grew up in a family focused on loving their neighbors and serving the people around them. With her dad a Lutheran minister and mom a special education teacher, it seemed natural for her to pursue a similar career.

“My parents definitely shaped the way that I thought about my work and how I would contribute and serve in my life,” Bernhardt says.

Today Bernhardt is serving the St. Louis, Mo., community of Gravois Park—through art. The 29-year-old artist and professor of art at St. Louis University began reaching out to neighbors of Holy Cross Lutheran Church with a weekly art class, which led to her founding Intersect Arts Center (IAC).

In 2018, We Raise Foundation awarded Bernhardt an Emerging Leader Grant for her work in creating IAC’s Camp Resolve, an arts camp with a different type of curriculum: conflict resolution.

“It’s all about trying to change the trajectory we see in terms of youth violence,” Bernhardt says. Art is used a medium to translate methodologies for and skills used in conflict resolution.

“We did a coloring book this year with a theme for conflict resolution, and we wrote a song and then created a music video that the kids could share with their friends and the world on the internet,” she says. “We try to think of ways that kids actually participate in creating the messages that they are also learning.”

While a graduate student studying art at Washington University in St. Louis, Bernhardt became interested in how art can be used as a catalyst for rebuilding under-resourced communities. “I learned about responsive community development, especially how to be responsible when you’re coming into a community that has experienced trauma.”

During the summer leading up to Camp Resolve, IAC ran an art apprenticeship program, where 24 local teens were hired to work with and learn from an artist. During the program, the teens created work for a show; in the final week, they served as junior mentors for the children in Camp Resolve.

LaShonda, now a high school senior, was one of those teens. “My teacher told me I should find something creative to do over the summer and told me to check out the IAC apprentice program,” she says. “Our goal was to create art for the gala, but camp taught me to look at both people if there’s conflict. It gave me a sense of both sides of the story.”

One of LaShonda’s favorite mentors at IAC is Bernhardt herself. “Sarah helped me with some of rough patches, especially getting used to interacting with people because I was kind of shy,” she says, adding that Camp Resolve also opened up the space for her to find more ways to do things with art.

“A lot of people have a very pessimistic way of thinking about art, but I’m more positive now that I can do things involving art, life-changing things that can help the community.” She hopes someday to become an entrepreneur with her artwork and, like Sarah, open up a community space for creating and sharing art.

“Community is definitely key, that’s IAC’s main focus. Not only to do art, but to build friends and family in the process so that we all lean on each other for help,” LaShonda says. “It is really awesome.”

Bernhardt remains grateful to We Raise donors for supporting IAC. “Knowing there are people who care about the work, who care about the people we care about, feels uplifting,” she says.

Thank you for supporting visionary leaders who help rebuild under-resourced neighborhoods by bringing creativity and inspiration to the people who live there.

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