Artists and activists came together to showcase work created earlier in the summer for the Rise Above: Youth Mural Project Gala Event on June 30 at the Edgewater Public Library.
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Pamela Gould, who runs the Jefferson County Communities that Care Coalition, said the project, which part of the larger Jeffco Teens Project, is meant to provide pro-social opportunities for teens.
The projects are designed by teens themselves, giving them ownership of the entire process.
"The whole evening is basically a showcase of artwork. We partnered with Jefferson County Public Libraries and Rise Above Colorado — another key partner of ours," she said. "Our coalition is about bringing community partners together to make something happen."
Work on display June 30 fell into two categories. The Mural Project allowed teens, working in groups, to create messages of diversity and inclusivity on repurposed vinyl. Landscapes, floral scenes, butterflies and rainbows mixed with themes of Teamwork, Diversity and Rise Above.
Gould said Photovoices — the second part of the evening's event — is meant to highlight connections and separation related to the LGBTQ community.
Sam Taylorn is Manager of Public Engagement at the Jefferson Center for Mental Health and a CTC Co-Chair. Speaking at the event, she said the coalition is forcused on creating a healthy, thriving and safe community.
"We do that by working together, listening to each other — particularly by listening to our youth in the community and this room," she said. "We really hope to focus on learning from one another and creating programs and opportunities to create connectedness, create safe communities and to help one another."
Marlene Alba, a CTC youth leader, was one of the teen artists who took part in the event. She contributed work to both the murals and Photovoice projects. In her Photovoices presentation she referenced a painting that to her, represented isolation. She said it was a portrait of feminity from a European Catholic viewpoint.
"Through colonization, religion and its rigid sexual and gender norms was forced on my ancestors. Identities outside the binary were persecuted and the effects of that are still felt today," Alba said. "I always felt that by not being a woman like I was expected to be, I would be betraying God and my culture. But being a woman would be betraying myself."
The second image in Alba's Photovoices presentation was that of a statue that had both male and female characteristics. Alba said indigenous people in the Americas have historically observed more fluid gender roles, with many recognizing a third gender.
"Gender nonconforming people had important roles in their communities," Alba said. "It's really inspiring to me to see that nonbinary people were valued and respected and by connecting to my gender identity it's a way that I can connect to my indigenous roots. It's something that was robbed from me and I'm now reclaiming it."
The Jeffco Teens Project is funded by Colorado Departmnent of Public Health and Environment.
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