Now Showing: Catherine O'Neill Thorn gets straight to the art

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For Now Showing, our fall arts guide inserted in the September 27 issue of Westword, we asked dozens of luminaries on the local arts scene -- including winners of the Westword MasterMind awards -- to take a survey about the state of the arts. We published many of the responses in Now Showing, but answers keep coming in, so we're sharing them on Show and Tell.

Getting straight to the art today: Catherine O'Neill Thorn, a 2008 MasterMind who founded Art From Ashes, an incredible organization whose mission is "empowering youth through creative expression & personal transformation" -- and uses poetry to accomplish this.

See also:- Now Showing: Our fall arts guide - Meet the 2008 MasterMinds - Jill Hadley Hooper gets straight to the art - Adam Gildar gets straight to the art

Westword: Aside from your arts organization (or yourself), who is doing the most interesting work in metro Denver right now? Catherine O'Neill Thorn: As the founder of a nonprofit that uses arts for transforming lives, I'm always intrigued by what the arts can do for social justice and community service. There are multiple arts organizations in Denver using visual, drama, music, dance and other creative means to impact the community, and CAST3 is a new collective that does just that. The collaboration is a group of Tier III organizations who receive a portion of SCFD funding because of the important artistic work they're doing in the community and who they're reaching. Denver agencies included in the multi-county collective of 69 small nonprofits are Su Teatro, Art Students League of Denver, Museo de las Americas, Friends of Arts Street, Kim Robards Dance, and Art From Ashes.

Along with the many extremely talented individual artists in Denver, these nonprofit organizations have for years been introducing art as a tool for empowerment to underappreciated and marginalized populations of people. And the work is stellar and as interesting as it gets, considering the wide range of lifestyles, ages and ethnic backgrounds of the population served. The culture of our society is changing. Where better to learn about those diverse histories and contributions than through the arts? And creativity is not only innate, but essential for expression, connection and transformation. Our communities are not only built, but ensured through artistic communication.

When you go out on the town, what's your favorite cultural activity? First Friday is great big party for the arts, introducing people who generally don't go to cultural activities to people who live for them. Access to the arts and appreciation for the arts is a wonderfully organic and enlightening process. Having a cultural event that brings together such diverse and eclectic sensibilities is a pleasure to observe, as much as the plethora of artistic expressions represented. It's also a great opportunity to introduce nonprofits and galleries to one another, and to build communal purpose and vision.

What's the one thing you'd like to see happen over the next year to improve the local arts scene? More collaborations between the business community and the arts organizations. If businesses were aware of how much of an impact the arts are having on the economy, that partnership could result in significant economic impact for Denver. Additionally, social awareness can only happen when voices are loud enough and insistent enough that community change must happen. Businesses can play a significant role in awakening the public to the needs of our marginalized populations, and a very important role in supporting grassroots nonprofit organizations providing access to the arts and to personal artistic expression.

Awareness is key to initiating community change, and media coverage is essential to awareness. Stories move people, and if the stories of our artists and the change that happens through art and creativity were more widely publicized in the media, we'd see an increase in audience and activity.

Read dozens of other responses to our Now Showing arts survey here.

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