Project in Parson’s student’s name hopes to heal


By Ashley Winchester

On Mon., Sept. 15 in the Great Hall of Cooper Union, author and actress Mariel Hemingway will serve as the emcee at a benefit reading for the Rita Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to using the arts to help bring an end to suicide.

Artist Kim Strouse began the Rita Project after losing her sister, 17-year-old Kristin Rita Strouse, to suicide. Kristin was a freshman and aspiring artist at Parson’s School of Design when she took her own life. The Rita Project is Strouse’s way of healing her own wounds while helping to heal others.

“[Through art] someone who has lost someone can realize that creating is helpful and realize that they have the tools in them to get through,” she said.

Strouse is working towards establishing studios in major cities across the country where people whose lives have been touched by suicide can gather together and create in a supportive environment. In addition, Strouse has sponsored several “Rita Workshops” in high schools across the country. Here, students learn the importance of art as therapy in dealing with the pressure of teen life. Some work produced from these workshops will be exhibited in galleries as a measure of participants’ healing progress. Creating and sharing art, Strouse said, helps people who are suffering from loss see their pain and work through it.

“Art becomes a teacher, a way to celebrate yourself, to recognize yourself to live,” Strouse said. “The Rita Project is not going to bring Kristin back, but it helps me deal with the loss… It is important to have life after a death, a life cycle. It’s thrilling to see the possibilities, that we all have so much potential.”

Monday’s literary evening will include readings from authors whose lives also have been affected by emotional struggle. Hemingway, whose father, Ernest, the famous writer, and whose sister, Margaux, both killed themselves, will be reading from her book “Finding My Balance, A Memoir,” which deals with her own struggle with life and loss. Hemingway will be joined by authors Sarah Arvio (“Visits from the Seventh”), Maud Casey (“The Shape of Things to Come”), Nell Casey (“Unholy Ghost”), Edward Hirsch (“Lay Back the Darkness”) and Andrew Solomon (“The Noonday Demon”), who will read works by artists who have died of suicide or struggled with mental illness, and will then read a piece of their own.

“In writing my book … I was constantly struck by how valuable the process of self-expression was,” Solomon wrote. “Writing had given me a feeling of control over a terrifying strangeness, and had also allowed me to see more clearly the nature of my complaint. I believe that one is healed through expression.”

All proceeds from the reading will go toward creating, staffing and organizing more Rita Studios, Rita Exhibitions and Rita Workshops nationwide. Tickets are available for $20 at www.ticketweb.com or by calling 1-866-468-7619. Additional information on the Rita Project can be found at www.ritaproject.org or by calling 1-866-775-RITA.