ArtThrust: Empowering Young Louisville Women Through Art

ArtThrust, a program that empowers Louisville girls through art, will close its 2013 multimedia group exhibit next Friday. “A Weight Off My Mind,” which is open through September 27 at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage, features sculpture and photography exploring beauty standards and body image by young women artists.

Louisville native Toya Northington founded ArtThrust in 2011 with a Kentucky Foundation for Women Art Meets Activism grant after graduating from Georgia State University with a fine art degree. A feminist social change artist, Northington explores the universal experiences of women transitioning between life stages in her work.

“It’s one thing for me to be able to exhibit my work,” says Northington. “But it’s even more rewarding when I know that what this work is producing is really helping someone else, helping the girls and helping the community building up women as a whole. I feel more complete now that I have that as part of my practice.”

ArtThrust works with small groups of girls, usually three to five who are thirteen to eighteen years old, at a time. It began as a summer program but has grown to a year-round endeavor built around a series of art activities and workshops focused on building self-esteem through art technique. Each session culminates with a public project. Last summer, the 2012 class created “Repositioned and Repurposed,” a nomadic architectural space in the form of a 10-feet by 10-feet weaving structure constructed and assembled downtown.  Northington partners with organizations like Family Scholar House and the Louisville Community Center to recruit participants.

Most of the artists don’t have formal artistic training before they begin studying with her, but Northington says the program teaches the girls more than technique.

“When they come in they’re very shy. At the end we have these characteristically introverted girls, these young artists, who are able to express themselves and are able to articulate their likes and dislikes and how they’re feeling in this open forum,” she says.

Northington says that from her discussions with her current group of girls about feminism and body image, she was surprised to learn that girls as young as 13 were being affected directly by pornography and how it depicts women.

“I thought about the program this year as a way to release them from that expectation of using their bodies in a superficial way and a sexual way, to have them reconsider just what they’re here for, what is their purpose, and how they should view their bodies,” says Northington.

Those discussions led to this year’s project, which included workshops with guest artists and a two-stage visual narrative process. The young artists viewed popular images of women in the media, and then were given cameras so they could create their own images of how they wanted to be seen. Then they created sculptures using body casts to continue the self-portrait narrative.

A closing reception for the exhibit will be held at the center next Thursday, September 26, 7-9 p.m. The exhibit can be viewed at the Kentucky Center for African American Heritage (1701 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd.) Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-noon and 2-4 p.m. 

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