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Alumna Creates Safe Zone Amid Ferguson Unrest

Carrie Pace '06 (Sculpture B.F.A.); Ferguson Library.

Carrie Pace '06 (Sculpture B.F.A.); and the Ferguson Municipal Public Library.

Carrie Pace '06 (Sculpture BFA) holds classes at the Ferguson Municipal Public Library during school closings.

Posted 04.01.15 by MICA COMMUNICATIONS

On August 14, 2014, students in the Ferguson-Florissant School District did not attend the first day of school. The violent clashes between protestors and police following the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Mo., caused the district to cancel the start of classes on that Thursday and Friday. 

"When Sunday night came around, and we knew school would be canceled again on Monday, I went up to Ferguson just looking for a way to help," said Carrie Pace '06 (Sculpture B.F.A.), an art teacher at Ferguson's Walnut Grove Elementary School, who lives in St. Louis. What she found was a situation so bad roads were closed. "You couldn't even help clean up at that point," she said.

Instead, Pace headed to the Ferguson Municipal Public Library and asked the director if she could hold classes there while schools were closed. "In the community that I teach, childcare can be hard for our families to afford," Pace said. "All of those parents were planning on their children being in school. The kids were so excited." Pace reached out to families and teachers through email, Facebook and signs, which were handmade and held up outside of the library on the street. The same day, 12 students were dropped off. Word spread quickly, and by the end of the week, there were 60 volunteers and 200 students at the library, with overflow at a nearby church.

"People came from all over," Pace said. "Every little facet that needed to be covered, miraculously someone stepped up and thought of everything." Donated food provided breakfast, lunch and snacks. Local nonprofits held workshops. "It was so important for people in the community to know how many people really cared and were willing to step up and help out," Pace said.

Most importantly, the library provided a safe learning environment for the children during a traumatic time. "Especially at the beginning of  the year, it was that loss of stability in the students' lives when they were expecting to go to school," Pace said. "For the kids that were there, it was a safe place to go."

Once schools opened, Pace saw art education as an opportunity for students to express their experiences,  something she was surrounded by as a student at MICA. "As artists, a lot of us have a keen awareness of current events because often that's what we're responding to in our own art," Pace said.

Some students dedicated art to Michael Brown. When making self portraits, one of her students asked, "Ms. Pace, can I put myself in a ‘hands up don't shoot' T-shirt in my portrait?"

"Emotionally, it has been a hard thing for the community to go through," Pace said. At a time when arts programs are often the first to have budget cuts, many children don't have the outlet art classes provide. Pace hopes others "recognize the importance of the arts as a healthy way to express yourself and also escape certain things when you need to. Art teachers certainly play an important role at a time like this."

Image caption (top to bottom): Carrie Pace '06 (Sculpture B.F.A.); and volunteers and students from the Ferguson-Florissant School District gather in the Ferguson Municipal Public Library while schools were closed in August 2014.