Celia Center Arts Festival reflects the diversity of adoption and foster care experiences

By Kelby Vera

Caleb Yee’s “Tears in Heaven” meditates on belonging and identity

Child therapist Jeanette Yoffee found her calling while volunteering with young adoptees and foster youth during her days as an actress. An adoptee and alumna of the foster care system herself, she realized that even most professionals aren’t fully aware of the complexity of these experiences.

Transitioning from a career in the performing arts influenced Yoffe’s practice, but it was reuniting with her birth mother and learning she was a dancer that cemented her belief in combining the two.

The healing power of art will be on full display Friday and Saturday during the second annual Celia Center Arts Festival at Highways Performance Space, a gathering for the adoption and foster care communities to share and celebrate their experiences.

Yoffe founded the Celia Center in 2012 to support what she calls the “constellation” of people touched by adoption and foster care, including adults who experienced them, youth presently in foster care, adoptive and foster parents, birth parents, siblings and partners. Her desire to “keep my heart and soul in my practice” made the arts festival a natural evolution, but it was meeting artist and adoptee Nicole Rademacher, who curates the art exhibit anchoring the festival, that sparked Yoffe’s inspiration for the event.

This year’s iteration of CCAF, titled “Adopting Resilience, Fostering the Spirit of Creativity: The Voices of the Fostered and Adopted,” brings Yoffe’s performing arts and Rademacher’s visual arts backgrounds together to showcase a powerful lineup of speakers, performers, interactive workshops and artists.

Saturday features a reading by adoptee, foster youth alum and professional track and field athlete Steven Benedict, a writing workshop on “Writing the Unsaid,” an artists’ discussion panel, and plenty of craft activities throughout the afternoon, including a virtual reality booth featuring Google Tilt Brush and a healing arts table for kids and families. Both days will include the performing arts showcase “Voices Echo from Past to Present” at 8 p.m., which includes a 30-minute excerpt of Yoffe’s one woman show, “What’s Your Name, Who’s Your Daddy?”

The visual arts exhibit on display through April 28 features painting, photography and sculpture from 14 adult adoptees and foster care alums as well as youth from the foster and adoption communities. In curating the collection, Rademacher made sure to capture the breadth of adoptee and foster system alumni’s experiences.

“I just wanted to really honor each’s experiences with family, with identity, with loss, and with grief, so I looked for work that could really speak about that,” she said. “We have artists who are really looking at themselves and reflecting on their experience personally, and some of them who are looking more about family and what family means to them. Others are really kind of trying to navigate through this idea of union as well as being an adoptee,” she said.

Caleb Yee, a 26-year-old artist who was adopted from South Korea as a baby, said he’s thrilled to connect with fellow artists, adoptees and foster alums. Yee’s adoptive father is Asian and his adoptive mother is white, so he often finds himself wrestling with themes of identity. His work often represents subjects in traditional Korean dress as a nod to his origins.

Yee has yet to reunify with his birth mother, and he hopes his art brings comfort to “anyone who has suffered from loss or estrangement from their family” or empathize with those who’ve had similar experiences.

The Celia Center Arts Festival begins with a free reception at 6 p.m. Friday (April 12) and continues with performances, readings and workshops on Saturday (April 13) at Highways Performance Space, 1651 18th St, Santa Monica. The exhibition is free; workshop tickets are $15 to $20 at celiacenterartsfestival.org.