Educating youth in art and adversity.

On a cold, windy day, Chris Duren is doing what she does best: sharing stories. But these aren’t just any stories. They are miniature history lessons about real people who faced great adversity and rose above it to share hope with the world. She is sharing these stories with kids — many of whom are facing adversity themselves — as a reminder of who we can be and what we can do.

Duren, who is the art director of the Jefferson City Museum of Modern Art, gives tours at the museum, located at 220 E. High St., to share the love of art with kids. The museum features three world-renowned artists (Purvis Young, Thornton Dial, and Aboudia Abdoulaye) who all experienced adversity in their life, including homelessness, poverty, lack of education, and racial tension. While the art is colorful and eye-catching, it’s the messages translated in the art that really resonate.

“Their life stories are amazing, and their art is showcased all around the world, but we have a lot of their art right here in Jefferson City,” Duren says. “I get to tell their story, and our goal is to inspire youth.”

Duren spends much of her time scheduling and giving tours for educational groups, including many from across the state. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum was also open on the weekends for walking tours by the public, which she hopes will happen again soon. While visitors of all ages are welcome, it’s the at-risk teenagers from the Jefferson City Academic Center and the Prenger Family Center that stick with Duren long after the museum tour is done.

“I feel like this museum was built for these kids who have felt discouraged and faced obstacles that make it harder to get through things,” she says. “When you tell a student about hard times or someone who has more struggles, and their artwork is known by millions of people, it is so inspirational. I love encouraging them and seeing that inspiration on their faces.

“It doesn’t feel like a job because I feel blessed to be sharing this with people,” she continues. “Maybe it helps someone not give up on a dream or helps them see the value in other people. It’s a little treasure hidden in Jefferson City.”

“Maybe it helps someone not give up on a dream or helps them see the value in other people.”

Chris Duren

For Duren, a Jefferson City native, this desire to help others is woven through her personal life, too. As a mother of five children spanning the ages of 7 to 15, she has a busy schedule, but it’s one filled with more than parenting. She teaches drama and public speaking at Lighthouse Preparatory Academy and she’s also a volunteer for many community organizations, including Moreau Heights PTO, the Jefferson City Parks and Recreation Commission, Jefferson City Public Schools Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Council, and the Jefferson City East Side Business Association.

While her volunteer commitments are varied, Duren has a singular focus in helping others. She wants to make a lasting impact for years to come.

“I hope that I can do my part to make things better for our city and our community,” Duren says. “There is so much negativity in the world right now. I want to be a bright light. The more you show yourself to be genuinely caring and generous, the more it spreads to others. God has given us talents, and we need to share them.”

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