Since 2003, Art from Ashes has been pushing empowerment for youth through the creative arts. In April, the local nonprofit's Phoenix Rising was again named a finalist for the 2016 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. “We’re local, we’re small and this is a huge honor,” says Catherine O’Neill Thorn, executive director of Art from Ashes. “This is a national award, and out of all the youth arts programs that apply, we’ve ended up in the top fifty three times, having been voted on by all different panels. I think that’s quite remarkable.”
The Phoenix Rising curriculum combines language and storytelling to reach struggling youth — who are often struggling with issues of poverty, abuse, criminal activity and gender identity — through a three-step process of expression, connection and transformation. The program has been so successful for the Art from Ashes participants that O’Neill Thorn and her staff now offer the curriculum’s workshops to outside agencies and schools at a discounted cost.
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“Phoenix Rising uses the power of language to change how young people feel about themselves by creating an identity for themselves rather than having one imposed upon them by society,” O’Neill Thorn says. “They learn that through the power of language, they can change their own perception.”
While the program has gained national attention for three consecutive years, O’Neill Thorn says the greatest honor is seeing the transformation in the lives of those they work with — 10,000 kids in metro Denver since Art from Ashes started. “It’s kind of magical and amazing what happens in the lives of young people, just helping them realize how much power they have and knowing it’s all through the arts,” she explains. “One of our youth reps says the only reason she’s off drugs is Art from Ashes, and a former youth who was in treatment for suicide at one point is now a pretty well-known rap star traveling around the country.
But for all the recognition, Art from Ashes still has to work hard to raise funds. Of the fifty finalists for the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program, a dozen will each receive a $10,000 grant — which can mean a lot to a small organization. “We have less than a $250,000 operating budget, have three people on staff and are mostly volunteer-run — and yet the work we’re doing is incredible,” O’Neill Thorn says. “Every day is a struggle for funding, but it’s the young people who remind us why we go through the struggle.” Of the fifty organizations recognized by
At 7 p.m. tonight, Art from Ashes will host Poetry and Pints at the Irish Snug, featuring musical performances and poetry readings by guest poets as well as a youth representative from its board of directors. Visit the Art from Ashes Facebook page for more information.