Art from Ashes (AfA) exists to empower struggling youth by providing creative programs that facilitate health and hope through expression, connection and transformation. AfA's art programs allow marginalized youth to tell their stories through poetry and spoken word (Phoenix Rising); visual and tactile art (Drawing on Air); and drama and creative play (Casting Shadows), in a non-judgmental space with caring adults and community artists.
Founding Director Catherine O'Neill Thorn has used her unique creative program to empower traumatized youth since 1992-leading poetry and spoken word workshops at juvenile facilities, treatment centers and schools, including weekly restorative workshops for students affected by the tragic shooting at Columbine High School. In 2002 when sweeping cuts in state funding decimated youth programs and arts agencies, Thorn was motivated to found Art from Ashes (AfA) to ensure her innovative curriculum would continue to reach struggling young people. AfA is the first youth arts agency in Colorado to use a process of creative expression specifically designed to facilitate personal transformation. AfA's empowerment workshops transcend standard arts programming by encouraging some of our most neglected members of society to embrace their creative identity rather than one founded on negative experiences and circumstances. Since 2003, Phoenix Rising, the foundational program that launched the agency, has utilized poetry and spoken word to help more than 9,00 youth recognize the power of language in perception and self-development. Based on the success of our original program, AfA has been developing additional youth empowerment programs to further support the agency's mission of resiliency and transformation through creative expression.
Phoenix Rising curriculum utilizes symbolism, metaphor and storytelling to engage youth who live in hopelessness and use the language of victimization because of experiences and/or circumstances characterized by poverty, racism, gender identity, criminal activity and abuse. Because words have a powerful impact on the subconscious - and consequently on choices and behaviors - the program's guided writing prompts allow isolated youth to express their value and access their unique creative genius.
Collaborating institutions contract with Art from Ashes for a series of workshops with up to 20 youth each. Each workshop involves reading published poems from well-known authors, introducing a guest poet for a live performance, administering guided writing prompts (all youth poems are written in three minutes to encourage right brain activity), and ensuring each youth at least one turn at the microphone to share an original poem. This well-honed design, delivered in a safe, supportive context, activates an internal process among participants. We have captured and formalized the process in the following conceptual terms: EXPRESSION, facilitates a safe way for youth participants to tell their story, primarily through poetry, followed by other means of creativity such as visual arts and theater; CONNECTION allows understanding, acceptance and empathy to develop with peers and adults: and TRANSFORMATION, helps youth discover and express their creative genius and thereby recognize it is within their power to choose a healthy and productive life.
Due to the proven success of our Phoenix Rising program, AfA will be implementing three new youth empowerment programs, currently in different stages of development: Casting Shadows, a creative play and theater program; Drawing on Air, a tactile and visual arts program; and Wingspan, a body awareness and movement program. All expanded programs employ AfA's core principles of Expression, Connection and Transformation, adjusting for the particular creative modality.
We continue to meet the growing need in our state to care more effectively for our vulnerable youth population by listening to them, by providing a way for them to feel connected, and by reminding them of their power and promise. In this way Art from Ashes is ensuring a better future for our youth and for our community.
"Youth who have participated in the program ask for this program to continue year after year. Their poems provide them with self-respect and appreciation for others that transcend cultural differences (including gang affiliations).
"We are proud to support such a creative program for the at-risk youth in our state."
--Elaine Mariner, [former] Executive Director, Colorado Council on the Arts
"Since spoken word poetry is a huge part of what AfA does, we can legitimately say this organization keeps alive the presence of our most ancient artistic tradition here in Denver. All of this concentrates in my head when I witness another young AfA poet stand and deliver a great poem, courtesy of the opportunity, the support, and the artistic vision of Catherine O'Neill Thorn and the good people at Art from Ashes.
"Don't tell me that isn't art. It most certainly is, alive and ancient all at the same time. And there's nothing else like it in Denver.
"Art from Ashes is an absolutely vital Denver arts organization, and it deserves the full support of our community."
--Chris Ransick, Denver Poet Laureate (2006-2010)
• This was the BEST workshop I've been to in all of the 4 years of attending this conference.
• It was amazing. A+ all around.
• It was great (plus pictures of flower and heart emoticons)!
• It was amazing. I wish I could do it again. Very supportive
• Amazing people who inspired ran this [workshop].
• It was a blast and a great way to see what people really feel.
• Loved it! Was better than expected. Very encouraging and even those who may not be "good at poetry" should attend!
• I had so much fun! The presenters were amazing!
• I enjoyed every minute of the course it was never boring.
• I like how energetic they both were. The clapping was awesome!
--Various, anonymous written comments from 2009 Cherry Creek Diversity Conference
"A memorable workshop experience occurred for me during my training at the Spot, run by Urban Peak. One of the youth was refusing to participate in the beginning, completely shut down around one of the prompts given about looking at the legacy created by our parents. By the end of the evening, he had both written and shared about his pain by performing a poem for everyone to hear. He was visibly lighter and transformed. It was truly an honor to share the space with him. This happens all the time here as a result of the work that we do. I never stop feeling lucky and blessed to be a part of this organization."
"I don't consider myself to be religious, but I do consider myself to be spiritual. Back when I was religious, whenever I left the mosque or the churches I would feel all juiced up, but you know what? When I leave our little poetry gatherings, I feel juiced up twice as much as that."
--Shawn Irizarry, 21 (2005), Youth Workshop Participant
"I received your packet of material and was literally blown away by the poems from the Phoenix Rising Poetry program. Thank you so much for sharing. But thank you even more for all the work that you do with those who so need your guidance and support. I am so happy that the Colorado Humanities was able to help with this work."
--Dirk T. Biermann, Board Member, Colorado Humanities
"It goes way beyond engagement. It is healing. It is therapeutic. It is much-needed positive perspective and encouragement."