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Visual Arts

Unchain my HeART fundraiser returns for 10th year

La Plata Youth Services event promotes protective factors, director says
Lexi Simpkin, left, and Emberly Strickhausen work on art to sell at the Unchain my HeART event at a painting workshop hosted by La Plata Youth Services at the La Plata County Fairgrounds last week. (Reuben M. Schafir/Durango Herald)

In an open, fluorescently lit gathering space at the La Plata County Fairgrounds after school let out, clumps of students from around Durango sat quietly painting one evening last week.

Some sat in groups, chatting and munching pizza; others worked quietly, concentrating on the canvas before them.

It was the fourth of five workshops hosted by La Plata Youth Services to provide students with an opportunity to create art in advance of the 10th annual Unchain my HeART event, to be held Feb. 23.

The event is unlike most nonprofit fundraisers. Although patrons do need to buy a ticket for a nominal fee – $10 in advance or $12 at the door – the event is really an art exhibition and sale.

If you go

WHAT: Unchain my HeART, featuring live student musicians, art, silent auction, food and mocktails.

WHEN: 4 to 7 p.m. Feb. 23.

WHERE: The Hive, 1550 Main Ave.

TICKETS: $10 advance, $12 at the door. Tickets can be purchased at lpys.org/unchainmyheart or at the LPYS office at 2490 Main Ave.

MORE INFORMATION: Visit lpys.org/unchainmyheart.

Students have been invited to submit art, regardless of involvement with LPYS programs, to be sold at the event, which will also feature a silent auction and live student band.

“It’s not really a money fundraiser for the La Plata Youth Services per se,” Executive Director Jason St. Mary said.

The proceeds from ticket sales and the silent auction, for which items were donated by the organization’s local corporate sponsors, will support LPYS’s mental behavioral health programming. But the proceeds from the art sales go directly to the artist.

Jasmine Watson works on art to sell at the Unchain my HeART event at a painting workshop hosted by La Plata Youth Services at the La Plata County Fairgrounds last week. (Reuben M. Schafir/Durango Herald)

“This event is really an opportunity to harness youth voice through artistic expression and, therefore, really promoting protective factors – we’re talking about self-worth, self-esteem and confidence – in order to have the opportunity to share whatever expression they’re trying to get out there, but also to have a community of adults rally around them,” St. Mary said.

For Elli Mytko, a 14-year-old first-year student at Durango High School, painting has become an outlet for thoughts and feelings that are tricky to express verbally.

“It’s a lot easier to throw colors on the canvas,” she said, swirling dark grays and blues on the slate before her.

And although she has some doubts about whether her art will sell, she admits “it’s worth a shot.”

Another student, 16-year-old Jasmine Watson, said she hopes to raise money for the Native American Big Picture Club so members can travel to the Gathering of Nations in Albuquerque this spring.

The clinics have been held around the county with the intention of reaching as many corners of the population as possible.

Last year, St. Mary said the event had about 80 pieces of art for sale. He hopes to keep it to a more manageable 50 or 60 pieces this year. Students price their art with the assistance of staff members in anticipation of the event later this month. Many artists do choose to attend the event, St. Mary said, although it is not required.

“It’s another way for them to be out in the community, to have supportive adults around them and to feel like they belong,” he said. “And that sense of belonging is so crucial for young people.”


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