Donovan, tracing an image of a dragon on a scratch-board, zones in on the small black sheet, unconcerned with his instructors sitting next to him.
For him, the dragon symbolizes his interest in Asian culture.
“It reflects me in a special way,” said the 17-year-old.
But unlike most people his age, Donovan is housed at Youth Futures in downtown Ogden, the first homeless youth shelter to open in Utah.
Weber State University’s Outreach Manager for the Department of Visual Art & Design, Holly Jarvis, started the Youth Futures: Kids of Survival art program — giving homeless teens the opportunity to explore art techniques and providing them with a creative outlet.
Jarvis has organized other youth art programs, including Arts in the Park, but while Arts in the Park is geared toward younger kids, Jarvis wanted to create a program for teens in the community. Collaborating with Youth Futures seemed like the perfect solution to her.
“I wanted to reach out to the community more and do something off campus. I also wanted to reach out to high school students and get in touch with teens,” said Jarvis. And the fact that WSU alumni, Kristen Mitchell, was the founder of Youth futures was a “really cool way to tie Weber State back into the community,” Jarvis said.
The program consists of five different art workshops involving various mediums and techniques, including watercolors, oil pastels and printmaking.
The workshops give students free rein on what they produce because it’s not necessarily what they make that’s important but rather the process and celebration of their artistic exploration.
Jarvis said that the organization gave the youth “an opportunity to make art and explore their identity and also have a place to show their work publicly and have a platform for their expression.” At the end of the workshop, the students’ work will be displayed in the Kimball Arts Building’s project gallery.
Local artist Nicole Woodruff, another WSU alumna, is helping Jarvis teach the workshops. Woodruff’s art has been exhibited in Ogden galleries, and she was an art teacher at Layton High School. She was glad when Jarvis reached out to her.
“I thought it was a really good idea. I thought I could do a lot of good for the youth and the community,” said Woodruff.
So far, the duo has taught two of the five workshops. The biggest challenge is that they never know how many students will attend. On Sept. 29, the first workshop had six teens participating, while Donovan was the only participant in the second workshop.
Even though Jarvis and Woodruff designed the workshops to stand on their own, the projects all support the theme of identity. In the first project, the students collaged a map.
“In every sense of the word, the last project was a geographical identity,” said Jarvis. “Maybe their identifying with a place that they grew up, or a place they like to visit, or hang out with their friends,” she said.
Youth advocate Susan McBride has worked at Youth Futures for a year. She said the art program is a “great idea.” McBride mentioned that it’s important the teens have a creative outlet to help them unwind and get their minds off the difficult situations they are in.
“They have not had a lot of outlets,” said McBride. “They’re more worried where their next meal or bath is going to come from, not drawing a picture….(this) shows them there’s more out there and to strive for better things, I hope.”
Donovan said he will be participating at the next workshop “if it’s something interesting.” He enjoys the opportunity the workshop provides for him to create art and make friends, and he’s especially glad his work will be featured in a gallery.
“It’s awesome,” said Donovan. “I can share my art to the world.”
The exhibition will begin Feb. 3, 2017 from 7–9 p.m. in the Kimball Art Building Project Gallery and will be free to public.
“It enhances their creativity, gives them something to do,” said Eddie Baxter, a youth advocate and intern at Youth Futures. “It enhances their self-esteem, enhances their personal growth. They can take their thoughts and put it into art. It gives them something positive to look at.”