Defining Moments: Exposure is the First Step in the Revolution

“I wasn’t allowed to talk about anything, the way I found I could talk about what was happening in my life was through these surrealistic drawings and paintings that I’d create. Because my upbringing was so traumatic, I used that as an escape.”

In foster care at age 9, Miriam Cortez learned that creating art was her way to work through pain and suffering. In her early twenties, her art still has a haunting quality and when you look at some of the pieces she creates, you find yourself being deeply drawn into a world, that for many is very much the “nightmare” that she describes.

This past Saturday, I had the opportunity to host an art show in honor of the twentieth anniversary of Peace4Kids, a nonprofit in South Los Angeles. Peace4Kids believes in the importance of giving young people the chance to both find and honor their gifts through creative education classes, including cooking, science, creative writing, film, poetry, dance, digital graphics, and other visual and expressive arts.

foster care
Miriam drew this scene during an art therapy lesson when she was 10. Photo by Miriam Cortez

Miriam is a program coordinator at Peace4Kids and worked with the teen group to create art pieces for the event.  The art show honoring youth  can be viewed at Black Umbrella Tattoo and Art Gallery in Garden Grove until August 12.

The show featured Miriam’s work, as well as that of others who have been impacted by the foster care system.

Miriam had never displayed her art in a gallery setting, and this too created a new vulnerability. It is one thing to create art for yourself – or for people experiencing it on a small screen as they scroll through your Instagram feed – and yet another to show the work in person. These more personal, intimate connections bridged through art were transformational in Miriam’s journey of healing.

“I no longer made this experience about me,” Miriam told me. “By showing my work, I was able to detach myself and talk about how the trauma of foster care is a very real problem in our society. There are many children suffering at the expensive of our unwillingness to address some of the systemic underlying causes of these issues.”

Exposure was the first step in her own revolution.


Mira Zimet is an award-winning educational and documentary filmmaker. She launched The Storyboard Project in 2014 to give foster youth transitioning into adulthood the opportunity to tell their story using a visual medium. She is on the board for Peace4Kids. Follow her on Facebook at /thestoryboardprojectlaYouTube at /thestoryboardprojector Twitter at @SPBYourStory

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