When Toya North started the nonprofit organization ArtThrust in 2011, her mission was relatively straightforward — to empower Louisville girls through art. North set out a curriculum in which contemporary art practices would be used to foster lessons on self-acceptance, healthy body image and leadership abilities.
ArtThrust adhered to that curriculum until 2014. That’s when North says she became increasingly disturbed by stories in the news.
“There were media reports of increased violence against LGBTQIA individuals, especially against those of trans women of color,” North says.
(LGBTQIA refers to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual individuals.)
It was at that point she says the mission of ArtThrust changed to address the potential trauma experienced by LGBTQ youth and the health conditions that can stem from that trauma.
“There were a number of programs that were reaching girls and empowerment, but not many that were reaching LGBTQIA, especially using art as a platform — so that is where we focus our direction currently,” North says.
North explains that in addition to going through the developmental stage of adolescence, which can be a stressful process for all young people, LGBTQ teens are vulnerable to the trauma of rejection from their family, friends, and religious organizations.
She says ArtThurst is expanding into a program to will provide LGBTQIA teens and allies positive assets that will allow them to build resilience to trauma “so they can adapt and thrive in the face of adversity” — an initiative that was recently awarded an $8,000 grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women. The grant was awarded to several organizations statewide that “address radical, timely and urgent issues.”
“One of the main benefits of our special grant is that we can extend our programming into fall and winter sessions,” North says.
According to North, the foundation of ArtThrust has been a weeklong summertime intensive during which young people learn about contemporary art practices, and also engage in educational curriculum about empowerment.
And she says it has been effective.
“The teens build a sense of understanding for themselves and their conditions, and also they are able to relate to others a little better, as far as in our community,” she says.
But North says in light of increased violence — she points specifically to the June shooting at an Orlando gay nightclub — it will be useful to reformat the program to meet more consistently.
“Our funding from the special grant will allow us to increase the format into monthly workshops,” North says.
During the fall and winter sessions, North says young people ages 13-18 will be experimenting with sculptural forms. The program will conclude with a public art exhibition entitled, “Myths, Fantasies & Dreams of the Archetype.”
More information about ArtThrust is available here.