Steamboat Springs, CO -
A cluster of decorated plaster-cast octopus arms rose from the floor of Beard & Braid Coffee Shop during First Friday ArtWalk last spring. It wasn’t a typical exhibit for downtown Steamboat Springs, but the teenage artists behind The Octopus Project offered an abstract depiction of their connections to the natural world.
The 10 teens were the first participants of a new project-based organization called You Out Loud, designed to give Routt County youth an opportunity to use art to foster self-esteem and promote mental wellbeing.
Suzi Mitchell, a local writer and artist who has experienced depression and finds solace in her chosen crafts, started the program. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak, Mitchell became aware of widespread struggles with anxiety and depression, especially among youth. As a mother of three and an advocate for mental health, she was determined to help.
“I’m a substitute teacher and saw firsthand how many of our kids were suffering, but we're missing an outlet,” she says. “The demand on counseling services, especially through the schools, is high and not everyone wants to talk about their feelings.” Mitchell asked local teens what would be helpful, and they expressed a need for more creative opportunities, outside-of-school community and nonjudgmental environments.
“The biggest obstacle was funding,” Mitchell says. “We wanted to remove any barriers for participation and cost can be one of them, so there is no fee to participate.” The group needed a fiscal umbrella and found it with the Boys and Girls Club of Steamboat.
“You Out Loud aligns perfectly with our mission to enable all kids, especially those who need us most, to reach their full potential as productive, caring, responsible citizens,” says Kelly Landers, the club’s development director.
“Reimagined, the Future of Fashion” began in mid-May, with 14 participants working toward a fashion show and art exhibit this fall to showcase repurposed clothing donated by Déjà Vu.
“Growing up here, this program is something that would have ignited my soul,” says Brie Kole, the lead artist on “Reimagined,” and the marketing and branding representative for Steamboat Pride. “Being able to share my love of fashion and sustainability with the youth feels like a special way of honoring my younger self that craved community and creativity.”
You Out Loud has a list of upcoming opportunities, including partnership with The World Hope Project to create a video written by local teens. “Creativity is medicine,” says Tina Harlow, MSW, LCSW, co-producer of the World Hope Project.
“Being a teen during, and now after, the pandemic is not easy,” Landers says. “This program gives youth an outlet and helps them find ways to be resilient.”
For more information, visit www.YouOutLoudRoutt.com