Boy finds outlet in artwork McKim Center program helps children struggling with inner-city troubles

July 30, 1996|By Kaana Smith | Kaana Smith,SUN STAFF

Where Orleans Street meets Pulaski Highway, a billboard with the face of Toure Hines stands high above the street, telling the neighborhood about a young artist living in East Baltimore and bringing a smile to a boy's face.

With help from the Penn Advertising company, organizers of the McKim After-school Art Program pooled resources to showcase Toure and another youth on billboards overlooking their East Baltimore communities.

The art program, which began in August, was created by community organizations searching for an opportunity to use art as a therapeutic tool for children struggling with issues that plague their inner-city communities.

From June to August and September to May, about 35 children come together to learn at McKim Center in Jonestown. For two hours a day, twice a week, children roam the streets of Baltimore with cameras or mold clay and plant flowers outside the historic building under the supervision of professional instructors and mental health specialists.

"It's not just a flaky art thing. If kids are feeling angry, instead of punching someone they can express it in their art," said Dr. Lauren Abramson, a psychologist who works with the program. "It's a way to get out feelings that they otherwise wouldn't be able to."

Another goal of the program is to build the self-esteem of children unable to adjust to a home or world that often is cold and unfriendly.

Ten-year-old Toure's behavior was much worse before he entered the program, his mother said. On a daily basis she was in school rescuing him from a fight with other children or reprimanding teachers for calling her son lazy and dumb, she said; at home, he was a whirlwind of anger, storming through the house and refusing to do his homework or speak to anyone.

"He was mean and nasty. Always fighting everybody," said Patricia Hines, 39, mother of Toure and two daughters.

As Hines talks about her son, the frustration is apparent in her voice, but her love and loyalty to her son also are evident. Walking into her small living room, guests are greeted by pictures of her children on a mantel. Awards and certificates honoring their achievements adorn her walls.

Standing next to his mother, Toure is quiet and appears to be shy, periodically tugging at his glasses. About 4 feet tall, he has a serious expression, speaking only when spoken to. But when there is talk about the program and the billboard, he struggles unsuccessfully to hold back a wide grin.

"I wanted to make more pots and stuff," he said after much coaxing.

Abramson said Toure was more focused than any other student, making more than a dozen pieces of ceramic artwork during his three months in the program.

The child who fought constantly in school suddenly was able to focus and interact with other children, his mother said. And the same child who refused to do homework did whatever he had to do to continue to participate in the art program -- even homework, she said.

Toure and the other youths were referred to the program by mental health specialists at the East Baltimore Mental Health Partnership. The partnership is a 3-year-old nonprofit, community-based organization supported by a federal grant aimed at helping East Baltimore children with special needs and their families.

The other billboard, off East Orleans Street near the Jones Falls Expressway, features William Hardy, 9, who lives in the Somerset Court public housing complex. The billboards were erected this month.

It's been about six months since Toure participated in the program, but it seems like yesterday, as he eagerly explains in some detail how he made the artwork he holds in his small hands.

"He's like an altogether different person. It changed him," Hines said as she looked at her son. "He keeps asking when he can go back."

Pub Date: 7/30/96

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