'I used to hide': When art lights the way for youth to reach out of the dark

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PITTSFIELD — Sky Durand and Shirley Gazaille teamed up toward overcoming their suicidal tendencies through art. Together the young women painted "Sunset" to describe their mixed emotions.

"It's the calmness of the sunset and anger of the waves crashing," Durand said describing the painting to the crowd gathered at The Colonial Theatre on Sunday afternoon.

"Sunset" was among six of the 28 paintings already sold that are on display in the theater lobby through March 18, works courtesy of Arts in Recovery for Youth. Proceeds from the sale benefit AIRY and the youth-based Berkshire Theatre Group Plays. Students also sang, danced and recited poetry, examples of how the two-year-old therapeutic group has helped them cope with depression, social anxiety, bullying and other issues that have lead to suicide thoughts and/or attempts to take ones life.

AIRY founder and suicide-attempt survivor, Marney Schorr, started the initiative two years ago with financial support from the Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention and individual donations. Since the program's inception, she's worked with 57 students in the 13- to 26-year-old population identified by the state Department of Public Health Suicide Prevention Program as being imminently at-risk for suicide and in need of additional support.

"We need people, it's in our DNA ... art builds that peer support," Schorr said.

The Long Island, N.Y., native opened the three-hour event with her life story of dealing with depression, anger, bullying in school and how they manifested themselves into a suicide attempt in her young adult life. The Pittsfield artist found her paintings to be part of her overall therapy.

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"We use art to self-soothe; we use art to tell our stories," she said. "Through the arts, let's love ourselves."

The celebration of youth recovery and suicide prevention also featured Pittsfield resident Raymond Brown's documentary, "Message of Hope' about three young people finding there way through AIRY. Berkshire Pulse Young Choreographers Initiative performed two dances based their interpretation of "Sunset" and another painting "Chaos and Calm" by Amity Lauzon and Sophia Bilia.

For Rachael Bentz, the 16-year-old sang while playing the ukulele and spoke about her troubled youth of suffering with social anxiety never wanting to attend school. When she did go, her friends were hesitant to say anything to her for fear she might try killing herself.

"I was fragile to them, like glass," she told the audience.

Thanks to AIRY, Bentz has gained the confidence to perform in public.

"Now look at me; I just sang for you. I used to hide in the corner," said the teenager.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.


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