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Social Work Professor Airs
Emotions Artistically

Date: June 29, 2001
By: Marianne Kunnen-Jones
Phone: (513) 556-1826
Photo by: Dottie Stover
Archive: Campus News

During the first week after two nights of rioting in Cincinnati in April, Steve Sunderland began drawing faces of fear and penning questions like "What can be done to stop the violence?" His creative response to the turmoil continued in Week 2 as his began to focus on "Cincinnati in Crisis." At Week 3, Sunderland said, "It was still too soon...we were still in shock, we were moving to blame people and trying to find some solutions, such as the 3,000 summer jobs for urban teens."

Steve Sunderland

Magic markers, ink, pencil and scraps of cardboard boxes became the vehicle for voicing the emotions of the moment -- grief, sadness, anger, frustration, shock, fear. Sunderland, UC professor of social work, picked up a marker and piece of cardboard to express his own feelings artistically, borrowing an approach he had observed in a Louisville exhibit by African American artist Jacob Lawrence.

"Business as Usual?" asked the social worker/artist in one of his posters drawn during this period.

"Back to Square 1," bleakly stated another of Sunderland's posters, not long after Week 3. It depicts six black squares with 1s inside, all labeled with different kinds of hate he could hear about every night on the news - hatred of other's race, hatred of other's religion, hatred of difference, hatred of all police, self hatred and hatred of kids, elderly, gays and Jews.

Sunderland found the cardboard drawings therapeutic. "I didn't know what to do with my feelings, my anger, my upset, my fear. It was enormously helpful in terms of conceiving what we can do," said Sunderland, a co-founder of the well-known Fernside Center for Grieving Children in Norwood, Ohio. "This became a laboratory to look at social conflict in our city."

Soon Sunderland began to share his corrugated "graffiti" with the students in his spring quarter classes, a Clifton church and a Winton Place youth center. Now he also is serving as a facilitator in the City of Cincinnati's mediations to settle a threatened racial profiling lawsuit and has begun to use his poster approach in that effort.

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