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Jana Marie Foundation’s Stompers project takes a stand for mental and emotional health

The Stompers Project, which benefits the Jana Marie Foundation, will be unveiling its first “Stomper” on Thursday. Artists along with local schools and organizations decorated parts of sneakers for use in the sculptures.
The Stompers Project, which benefits the Jana Marie Foundation, will be unveiling its first “Stomper” on Thursday. Artists along with local schools and organizations decorated parts of sneakers for use in the sculptures.

Stomp.

It’s the sound of a foot being put down, hard. Sometimes that’s the first step in taking a stand.

The Jana Marie Foundation, a Centre County nonprofit, is doing just that with its Stompers project, in which art and expression will come together to take a stand for mental and emotional health.

“We want to give people a chance to look at the sculpture and know they are not alone, that they have other people to relate to,” said President Marisa Vicere Brown, who created the foundation after losing her sister to suicide in 2011.

The Stompers are sculptures, but they are also more than just art. Instead of static pieces that stand as an expression of the artist’s feelings and vision, these works of art are collaborative.

Multimedia artist Annalisa Barron is one of the creators behind them.

“The wooden base is very much like a shoe mold,” she said.

Then come the pieces.

“You get a ton of shoes and cut them into four shapes,” Barron said.

The sneaker pieces are colored and decorated. There are messages of support and hope. There are remembrances of those lost or tributes to those who have overcome. There are riots of color and pattern.

And then they come together, held by the laces that wind through the grommets. Maybe knotted, maybe looped in a bow.

“It will be different every time,” Barron said. “There is a lot of freedom.”

The foundation plans to do sculptures all over Centre County, and the people who participate, whether they are 10-year-old schoolchildren or parents or retirees, will bring their experiences to the art and make it their own.

The first sculpture, called the Sole Stomper, will be unveiled in a launch event Thursday at the State College Municipal Building. But even those who aren’t there for the initial event can still participate in this intersection between public art and interactive design through the stories the sculpture will tell.

“You can interact with the stories on the website,” Brown. said A QR code posted near the sculpture will help connect viewers to the website, www.stompersproject.org, where they can read stories and other information shared by those who participated.

“People treat me like a problem to be solved just because the wires in my brain make different connections than what doctors consider typical,” one person wrote.

“I’ve recently found someone to talk to. I feel like we should all have someone. Maybe then we would get along as people,” another wrote.

The point of it all is to stomp out the stigma of problems like anxiety, depression and bullying, and foster connections to make the world a place where everyone can stand tall.

“We want to represent the ‘Power of One,’ ” said Brown, quoting the subtitle of the first Stomper. “One step can start a journey, one candle can light the darkness. You can be that one.”

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