Photos by Melissa Sun
On Nov. 6, local youth featured their artistic talents as part of “Dear Palo Alto,” a two-hour long showcase held in response to the student deaths last year. The showcase included featured paintings, songs and dance routines from high school students, as well as monologues from the Stanford Theater Activist Mobilization Project. The event was co-sponsored by the Palo Alto Community Services Division (PACSD) and Break Through the Static, an organization exclusively dedicated to supporting teens who have lost a loved one to suicide. “Art allows individuals to reach deep within themselves and connect with emotions that otherwise may remain hidden or ignored,” Break Through the Static Founder Jade Chamness said. “We hope performers and spectators alike left ‘Dear Palo Alto’ more in touch with themselves and walked away knowing that the future of Palo Alto’s youth is bright.”
The idea for a teenage artist showcase came from event coordinator Julia Tachibana, who graduated from Palo Alto High School in 2005. According to Tachibana, the recent suicides deeply affected her because her younger brother died by suicide in 2003. She became interested in holding an event to raise awareness about mental health issues after seeing a play about eating disorders. “I was experiencing an eating disorder at that time, so it was really healing to hear students speaking out so honesty and creatively on the topic,” Tachibana wrote in an email. “That was what prompted me to use dance, drama, art and music for this event. Art empowers both the performer and the audience, and only positive energy can result from it.”
“Dear Palo Alto” included numerous works of art. One such piece was a collection of 1000 origami cranes that were given to Tachibana by her classmates after her brother’s death.
In addition to the artwork, “Dear Palo Alto” also had featured acts, such as the alternative Gunn band After Closing Time and hip-hop artist Mickey Cho. Student performers expressed their enthusiasm for the event, as well as their gratitude for the chance to express what they wanted to say to the community. “I thought the event was a great opportunity for kids to come and express themselves in a fairly uninhibited way,” junior Daniel Wolfert said. “It was a great way to speak my mind about not just the suicides at Gunn, but the suicides across the nation. As a member of the LGBT community, I feel that I can relate to these events and I thought that it was a really good cause.”
After the show, the audience split into breakout groups. “I was very pleased to see that the youth responded really well to our breakout groups; staying after the program to process what happened,” Tachibana said. “It was really moving to see all these kids sitting down with their peers in small groups, talking about the event and passing ideas around about what else we can do as a community to help each other.”
The project had almost no budget until offers of help and donations began to come in from numerous individuals from the community, organizations and businesses. According to Tachibana, she was ecstatic when the PACSD unanimously agreed to co-sponsor the event, enabling her to rent out the theater venue for free. The Break Through the Static graphic artist created the flyer at no cost. Omega Printing also printed the flyers and programs for free, Starbucks donated coffee and the Palo Alto Medical Foundation and the Arts Council of Silicon Valley gave grants.
Tachibana and Chamness were also surprised to find that so many high school students auditioned for “Dear Palo Alto. “While planning this event with Julia, we just hoped to get a couple people to come,” Chamness said. “But then it ended up becoming this amazing event with so many performers.”
After the event, organizers, performers and audience members expressed a desire to have future events similar to “Dear Palo Alto” to give students a chance to express themselves. “I hope the performers become aware, if they are not already, that they have a powerful voice and a very constructive means through which they can bring awareness to various different issues close to their hearts,” Tachibana said. “I also hope that teens will realize that they are not alone and that there are many loving people around them, willing to listen if they ever want to talk. This event was just as much about celebrating life, as it was about addressing difficult issues, and we certainly did that [Saturday night]. We witnessed what all these young people are capable of doing.”