Nonviolence Works

Youth speak to us about violence


‘Art is a language that allows youth to clearly express themselves in ways that are different than writing or speaking” said Michael “Smokey” Martinez, Nonviolence Works board member and chair of the Art of Nonviolence Exhibit opening Monday (Feb. 5) in the Encore Gallery at the Taos Community Auditorium.

The exhibit features works by 30 young artists from Questa Junior-Senior High School, Taos Middle School and Taos Charter School. They all responded to the challenge from their teachers to express how violence has affected them. The exhibit is beautiful and tough; these stories are moving. Some themes emerge: the juxtaposition of love and violence, the power of bullying, bruises on the heart, feelings of being victimized, pretending to be okay and suicidal thoughts.

Martinez comments that the courage of these artists to express their feelings is a strong message of support to other youth who may not feel they can speak up about what has happened to them. These shyer students can be empowered by their classmates. And the teachers – Katie Woodall at Taos Charter School, Christine Autumn at the Taos Middle School and Jennifer Vialpando from Questa Junior-Senior High school— talked to their students about how to dig down deep in their own lives. What has happened to them? What have they experienced? What have they observed? What have their friends shared with them? The teachers created safe, accepting environments for the students to speak their truth through art. And it will all be at the TCA for us to hear.

This is the fifth year that the TCA board and staff have supported Nonviolence Works in showcasing this art. We are grateful for the opportunity to share these images with the community. Art is a healing and life-enhancing process, and a number of NVW’s clinicians use art in their sessions with young people.

While in 2016, we emphasized the paths to nonviolence, this year the NVW Board and staff felt that the current political and social climate in the country demanded that we invite the youth to share with honesty how violence in its many forms has affected them. While many of the references in the works cite physical violence, some pieces clearly depict psychological violence, such as bullying and the enormous burden of trying to say, “I’m just fine” when the student is not fine.

One of the important aspects of art therapy is the powerful message of the social and community consequences of violent human behaviors. A community must be concerned if its young people feel that they are not safe are living in quiet fear without community support. Agencies such as Nonviolence Works have more referrals than they can serve, but they try to position clinicians in places, such as schools, where they are accessible to those in need.

The recent work of Jill Cline and St. James Episcopal Church in developing a proposal for “Common Grounds,” a safe place for youth, is a step in the right direction for this community. Meanwhile, the Kit Carson (Electric Cooperative) board has supported this effort by signing a lease on the old children’s clinic cuilding on Cruz Alta to provide a haven for youth avoiding violence in other settings.

The Art of Nonviolence will hang in the gallery from February 5 to April 1. On Thursday (Feb. 8), from 4-6 p.m. it will officially open with remarks from the artists and their teachers. The TCA and NVW invite all the community to come and learn from these youth. Show them we care.

Nonviolence Works has the largest staff of behavioral health clinicians in northern NM. Reach us with referrals, donations and questions at or (575) 758-4297.

Mary McPhail Gray is the board chair of NVW and can be reached at or (575) 779-3126.