Colorado Creatives #94: Dylan Scholinski
Dylan Scholinski has not lived an easy life. Born a girl named Daphne and sent at fifteen to a mental hospital with the diagnosis 'inappropriate female,' Scholinski spent the majority of his high school years training extensively in what his doctors considered proper femininity. "I basically got a four-year degree in living in a psych ward," he says, "but I think that's one of the reasons the youth I work with have success with me, rather than with others; I'm not a therapist, I'm a witness. I'm not going to tell them that they're sick. I don't have an agenda, other than for them to find themselves and then celebrate themselves for what they are." Today, twenty-six years after his discharge, Scholinski runs Sent(a)Mental Studios, a program devoted to offering depressed and suicidal teenagers the time, the space and the resources necessary to the production of something Scholinski believes is profoundly healing: raw, honest, unabashed art.
Though he has opened his workspace to youth since the early '90s, Scholinski formally started Sent(a)Mental Studios in 2007 after a friend's suicide. His intent was to quietly facilitate an alternative to self-destruction, to establish an environment conducive to personal exploration, expression and, ultimately, acceptance. The key to these things, according to Scholinski, is genuinity, no matter how uncomfortable. "I was very annoyed in my life being told to paint happy pictures when that really isn't who I was," he notes. "They were always asking me to be someone else, and I really think everyone needs to be allowed to express full spectrum of emotions."
That means the art generated by the kids who participate in Studio projects is not always especially pleasant or hopeful. The "Lead With Your Heart" collection, for instance, is more a portrait of human struggle and desperation and sincerity than an image of the flawed but eventual bliss we typically associate with love. "Some people decorate [their pieces]," Scholinski says. "Some people tear them up. Some people step on them. It's wherever a person's at. It's supposed to be a record of that moment. We all feel joy, pain, fear, regardless of class, race, sexuality. The heart is something we all have in common."
This fearless embrace -- and acceptance -- of the emotional gamut in its overwhelming entirety is what makes Sent(a)Mental Studios remarkable. Its aim is expression, and real expression, as Scholinski sees it, is individual and passionate and sometimes harsh but, before all else, it is unapologetic truth. "That's where I found my strength," he says, "in my work, in my ability to really feel and expose myself. I think the goal of all this is really creating a more compassionate and feeling world."
Westword: If you could collaborate with anyone in history, who would it be, and why?
Dylan Scholinski: There are a lot of artists I feel kinship with, like Basquiat, and also David Wojnarowicz. They're really personal artists, and I identify with artists who are personally expressive. Another artist really inspired me - Jonathan Borofsky, who actually built the sculptures outside the DCPA that look like aliens. I have a hard time choosing the kind of artist I am -- am I a sculptor? Am I a painter? Am I a printmaker? -- and he showed me that I don't have to be a particular kind of artist. He kind of gave me permission to deal with art the way I wanted to, rather than focusing on a single type.
Who in the world is interesting to you right now, and why?
My students. They're soldiers. They're amazing. They're fighting amazing fights. They're inspiring. I feel really honored to participate in their lives.
What's one art trend you want to see die this year?
Censorship. I had a student this last summer -- he was this raw kind of graffiti person, and the people overseeing his project were like, 'it has to be prettier.' It really got a fire under me. If we're going to ask people to express themselves, we have to let them show themselves and not be afraid of it. If people want to show themselves to the world, they should have opportunities to do that.
A mystery patron offers you unlimited funds for life. What will you do with it?
I'd do exactly what I'm doing. I'd just have more materials and be able to offer more service. Right now, everything I have I give away. I'd love to be able to build it, have more studios, have more students, and not be struggling to buy the art supplies they need. And I'd like to eat dinner.
What's the one thing Denver (or Colorado) could do to help the arts?
There needs to be some system providing funding to people starting nonprofits. Many people don't have the money.
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What's your favorite way to waste time?
I don't have a lot of time to waste, but I can get pretty sucked into playing on my computer. I try to figure out a new way to organize everything. I also like to have organic time, where I have no real agenda; I just start on a walk without any real expectation. I sit and look at something or get a cup of coffee. I like to putz.