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Using art to advance the culture of life

Jennifer Evan's artworkApr. 26, 2013 - For aspiring elementary school art teacher Jennifer Evans, the meeting with her teacher for her final class project was not going well. With two weeks to go before the project deadline, her teacher was threatening to censor her work.

Jennifer thought the decision to include a prolife message in her work might not go over well with her art teacher, but the Thornapple Kellogg High School senior was undeterred. She knew she had the freedom of expression, and was committed to expressing a positive prolife message at her school's art festival on May 19.

"She didn't want this message in this school," Jennifer said.

Her first idea for the project wasn't a prolife message. Her initial piece was going to express diversity by forming a face out of many separate pictures arranged together. The difficulty of putting it together forced her to reexamine her plan, but it opened up a new opportunity.

"I had been thinking about putting a prolife message in my art for a while, but didn't know how I would do it yet," she said.

After a few days of brainstorming, she settled on three large separate drawings of a baby growing up throughout life, the last drawing featuring the person as a nurse holding an ultrasound photo. Below the three frames, the word "life" was spelled out in bold letters.

On February 28, two weeks before the project was due, Jennifer met with her teacher to get approval for her plan.

Jennifer's teacher was not impressed. She asked Jennifer what the piece meant. Rather than say it was the circle of life or a story of a girl growing up, both conclusions someone viewing her art might reasonably think of first, Jennifer decided to honestly tell her teacher it was a prolife message.

The teacher first tried to talk her out of the idea, but when Jennifer said she was committed to doing it, her teacher said she would not allow it to be displayed and that the artwork would damage Jennifer's future.

"She told me this kind of art wasn't going to get me a scholarship, it was definitely a tense conversation," Jennifer said.

Jennifer said the teacher's objections first centered on the controversy of sharing a prolife message, even one that is not explicitly about an issue like abortion. Later on during further discussions, she said the teacher objected to the depiction of the ultrasound photo the nurse was holding.

Her teacher said, "you have a fetus in your art!"

The teacher would allow her to finish her artwork, but refused to allow her to present it. Fearing for her educational plans and her desire to have her work join those of her fellow students at the school art festival, it would have been easy for Jennifer to reverse course. She said she instead felt she had to be bold and speak up for her deeply-held beliefs.

"I didn't want it to be this big deal, but I decided it had to go as far as needed," Jennifer said.

Fortunately her case didn't go as far as it could have. Jennifer's parents wrote to the teacher, imploring her to respect Jennifer's freedom of expression. They also contacted the school's principal and superintendent. After a few stressful days of drawing, not knowing if her work would see the light of day, Jennifer was informed she would be allowed to display her art.

The art festival will cap a special end to her senior year, she said. Jennifer's last day of high school is Friday, May 17, she will be competing in the Right to Life of Michigan High School Oratory Contest on Saturday, May 18, and her artwork will be displayed for everyone to see on Sunday, May 19.

She said she was very thankful for her parents' support, as well as support from others during her struggle. At Thornapple Valley Church in Hastings Jennifer was able to display and explain her work. She said she hopes her experience inspires other people to be bold in sharing prolife stories, even in the face of controversy or consequences.

"Go for it! Don't let your fears get in the way," Jennifer said. "It was a big mess and really ugly, but it was worth it in the end."

For information about prolife volunteering opportunies and to sign-up for them, click here.

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