Art project gives students, community deeper look into human trafficking

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- As her bus pulls up on a cold and wet Saturday morning, Peaches reports for duty for the first time.

Her story is as chilling as the rain. She was a runaway at 14, with an older "boyfriend" who put her to work.

It sounds familiar and realistic, but it comes from the minds of McLane High School art students who propped her up at the bus stop, and put Heaven and Lucifer in front of Tioga Sequoia and Nina near Bitwise South Stadium.

The McLane ArtVenture students installed four human trafficking victims around downtown.

"Every victim is different. The one I wrote about her is I gave her a bad family background," said student artist Nick Vang.

Vang gave life to Nina, whose story you'll find online or just by scanning the life-sized cutout.

It's his first painting project, but it taught him a lot more than how to use a brush.

"Before this year I didn't know what human trafficking was. I thought it was just slavery. But it's actually more complicated," Vang said.

The ArtVenture project lets students learn about serious issues from an artistic angle. In this case blending painting with creative writing to give trafficking victims complete backgrounds.

"We do a lot of writing. The art informs the writing and the writing informs the art," said Marc Patterson.

Patterson is a teacher and directed the project. He says the writing focused on how victims got lured into it and how being trafficked affected them, which students might've previously ignored.

"There was a lot of misunderstanding or no understanding at all by a lot of our students and so even though a lot of them have been exposed to it in some way or another, they didn't realize what it was," he said.

The pop-ups have the city's blessing, but they're a guerrilla project, so they could disappear at any time.

But students are working on one final project, including dance and video, at Art Hop on May 2. They wanted to be advocates, so in the end, we'll see how victims like Peaches finally found a way out.
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