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Fear and Love: Shedding Light in Darkness
Relentlessly compassionate about his non-profit organization Release The Fear, artist Robert Miley recently traveled into the jungles of El Salvador, sponsoring a workshop called Bridging Possibilities, dispersing positive hope among approximately 300 children from an AIDS orphanage.
Jetblue Airlines was funding an Airline Ambassadors program and asked Robert to lead an outreach expedition into a country plagued by poverty.
He describes his mission there as a way, "to shed light in darkness." On the border of Honduras, with teenagers in camouflage holding machine guns, he admitted that his own initial reaction was nervousness and fear, before being assured it was for his own protection and those who were with him.
He said it was twenty years ago he took a trip to Guam to help runaway and abused children when he discovered, "really what the arts can do."
Back in Phoenix at his gallery, Robert explained to me what this emotion means to him. "I think fear is hate and misunderstanding in self and in others...when faced with fear; fear is actually a paralyzing effect that blocks the cerebral cortex from the bridging of the right and left hemisphere..."
How Release The Fear got its name? Robert said he believes there are two things in life: love and fear. "The more you have of one, you can't have much of the other," perhaps implying a constant effort to achieve balance?
Release The Fear offers self-rehabilitating workshops for at-risk youth using experimental whole brain thinking techniques in effort to prevent lives lost to a life of crime. These workshops are most often applied within detention centers such as Durango and South East Facility. It also reaches out to schools and has been used by other community/cultural programs like The Piper Foundation in Chandler.
"One of the things we do in the workshop is called Mirror Work. The kids look themselves in the eyes and say ‘I love or like myself just the way I am' and then they talk about why."
Robert recalls a tough boxer type performing this and afterward said, "When I looked into my own eyes and said those words, I realized I always wanted someone to say them to me...and what I realized then was, I can say them to myself."
Confident about the human response this kind of approach invokes, Robert conjectured, "I think everything in life is there to teach us something about self and surroundings...this workshop is so full of metaphors. Things that will lead the mind to something else."
The activities performed analytically explore the cognitive process by using physiological, sensory input. One of the exercises has these young adults reach into a bag and visually depict what they feel in their hands without seeing the objects.
"This allows them to go beyond what they think they're looking at, putting something into the projected mind's eye... Part of the reason we do that is so we're at the point of stimulating whole brain thinking...so if they're ever faced with a creative decision or critical problem solving, they're able to call upon that...opening up new channels."
Using the power of art through creative process to counter act violence has proven to be successful. Each year Release The Fear positively affects more than 3,000 youth. Research from 1998 estimated an average cost of 2 million dollars per life of crime. Based upon a 50% economic increase, that's $3 million spent in today's society on one life of crime!
So far, 40,000 young lives have been exposed to Release The Fear programs. Staffs at detention centers say that 25% of those 3,000 go on to become non-repeat offenders, by facing their fears to beat the odds. That's 10,0000 youth impacted, multiplied by $3 million; this saves society $30,000,000,000.
"I believe in today's education, a lot of people, including myself, don't fit into the normal mold, so therefore they're getting lost in the system...you also have the arts being one of the first things pulled from schools for budgetary reasons."
Robert went on to add, "...We're born with a hundred billion brain cells and by the time we're age three, we develop a thousand trillion. As we enter into adulthood, we utilize half... We used to believe if we don't use them, we lose them! Discoveries have proved that we can re-stimulate them, yet we can't re-stimulate something by thinking the same way we thought before."
"So by opening up new channels, eating with you left hand as opposed to your right, looking at the negative shaped in between something rather than the positive form. That starts stimulating the brain."
When asked to serve on the Phoenix Arts Commission, Robert's acceptance speech focused on some of the most difficult yet significant memories of his life.
"I survived a horrific car accident in L.A., got to feel what it was like to be a trauma patient in ICU with two blocked arteries and robbed at gunpoint while eating at a local Phoenix restaurant. I think I'm ready to serve."
Located in the art district of Phoenix on the corner of Central and Roosevelt is his sculpture titled Release The Fear. It took Robert ten years to create, overcoming much adversity and debate. On the sculpture it reads, Cast from 17,000 pounds of metal- four tons of which were weapons used in violent acts collected throughout Arizona.
Standing right there beneath it, the symbolic images bring everything into perspective. The definition of Release The Fear comes to life. You see the visible reminders: guns melted into metal, automatic weapon clips, triggers, gun handles and bullet chambers. As I was looking through the holes of many barrels, I wondered what lives were lost or more importantly, how many more can be saved?
Engraved in the sidewalk beside the statue are several quotes by friends of Robert who greatly influenced his inspiration. One by Rebecca McClain shines the brightest in his mind. "All things of beauty are born out of resistance; look at the processes of nature."