Local arts organizations commemorate 9/11

The arts extend beyond their capacity to entertain, provide sensory stimulation or simply captivate. Art can also become a tool for healing old wounds, helping us remember past tragedies while finding some solace and even hope in expression.

This Sunday marks the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, a tragic event that is forever embedded in the American consciousness. In an effort to bring some healing to the community, two local arts organizations are presenting events that speak to the tragedy that left nearly 3,000 dead and the country scarred.

Valley Art is hosting its annual 'Living Leaves' event Sunday, a project in which community members can make personal memorials to the victims of the event, or loved ones they have lost throughout the years. Attendees are given pieces of paper on which they can make inscriptions or small artworks dedicated to those who were lost. The 'leaves' are then hung from a tree outside Valley Art. Some are covered in wax for preservation.

Participants can also choose to have a leaf created by Valley Arts artists.

'Living Leaves' was initially created as a memorial for Valley Arts members Rick Read and Bill Ward, who perished while climbing Mt. Hood in 2002. The project has also become a way for people to remember lost loved ones and victims of disasters such as 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina.

Jeanne Levy, a longtime Valley Art member who spearheads 'Living Leaves,' said the event is typically a quiet way for people to heal the wounds of loss. This year, a decade since 9/11, she anticipates participation could get a boost from folks looking to offer thoughts for those lost in the attacks. 'It's always been a quiet thing,' said Levy. 'I'm hoping it will be a bigger event than it usually is, with the anniversary of 9/11.'

Levy said 'Living Leaves' offers an opportunity for anyone - whether artistically inclined or not - to express themselves through art, and shows the true healing power of creative expression.

'It is a way to carry on thoughts and those prayers of hope,' said Levy. 'I think any way that people have of remembering others, even if it's anonymous, [is] a great way to remember.'

Throughout the weekend, Theatre in the Grove is also tackling the difficult topic of 9/11 with its three-day production of 'The Guys,' Anne Nelson's two-person play based on a true story about a New York fire captain who seeks the help of an editor in writing eulogies for the men he lost in the attack.

Directed by Dan Harry, who co-stars with his wife, Jodi Coffman - whose Sept. 15, 2001 wedding was disrupted by the closure of airlines in the wake of the attacks - the play puts a human face on the events, helping to illustrate the mourning experienced by people throughout the country in the aftermath.

'What this deals with is just the human side of it. We don't have to show pictures of the planes hitting the towers or anything to remind people what happened,' said Harry. 'It's a story about two completely different types of people. When the attacks happened, a lot of people were 'jumping tracks,' as they say in the play. People who would never have a conversation with each other were talking about it, feeling the exact same thing.'

Harry likens 9/11 to the attack on Pearl Harbor and the assassination of John F. Kennedy in that each event is seared into the minds of those alive to see them happen.

'It's one of those things that's stamped in American history now,' said Harry. 'It was a terrible thing that happened, but it also shows the resilience of Americans to be able to stand up and say, 'You know what, we're Americans, and we're going to keep on going no matter what happens.''

With 'The Guys,' which is being presented as a fundraiser for Theatre in the Grove, Harry said he hopes patrons will identify with the show's characters who, like the rest of the country, are forced to come to terms with horrific events. The show is not about forgetting, but remembering the lives lost, the impact the terrorist attacks had on the country and finding some healing in the stories of resilience and hope that emerged from the rubble.

'After 10 years you'd think we're in a place where it's been long enough where it doesn't hurt as much, but there are still people who, on the anniversary of the death of John F. Kennedy, still get misty,' said Harry. 'It's such a big moment in their life. This is the same thing.

'Every time you see a picture of the towers standing, you're reminded that they were once there. In general, shows like this help to heal. It's a reminder that we can still move on. We're still moving on.'

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