PRISM LGBT Art Program Provides Support, Art to LGBT Youth< < Back to
Each Monday afternoon, LGBT youth and allies gather at Arts West for activities that provide a sense of community for kids who may struggle to find people they can relate to.
The PRISM LGBT Youth Art Program offers weekly arts programming as well as after-school snacks, books and games to kids ages 12 to 18. Past activities include paper-making, mosaics, music lessons, cooking lessons and more, depending on the night.
“We’ve started scheduling our art activities way ahead of time with community artists leading those projects,” said Tessa Evanosky, events coordinator at ARTS/West and one of PRISM’s creators. ”We don’t require kids to be there every week, so we want to give them an idea of what’s coming up so they can pick and choose.”
The most important part of the PRISM program, however, is providing the children with a sense of community, especially in a political climate that can be less than welcoming to those who are perceived as different. Lacey Rogers, another staff member with PRISM, said providing LGBT children in the area with a support system has been their top priority.
“Letting people know that even if you may see this public image of certain people not being supportive of certain identities… there is this group of people interested in helping these youth get these resources and find other people who are like them,” Rogers said.
Evanosky said the program has been effective so far, and that attendance has increased since they started the program in January. Having staff working with the kids, she says, gives them the opportunity to have adult mentors who may have experienced similar struggles growing up.
“Being able to connect them with people who are like them and have experienced the things that they’ve been through on all different levels puts that hope in there that it does get better, there are supports to help them get through the hard times,” Rogers said. “If we help one person, we’ve been successful.”
Rogers says that, although they want to help as many kids as they can, there are many barriers to the program, including lack of transportation from more rural parts of the area and the possibility of unsupportive parents.
“There’s just kind of that divide, being able to advertise that we have this opportunity of people being able to come together, but also not advertising because some people would not be allowed to go if their parents knew what it was,” Rogers said.
Rogers said PRISM advertises through a Facebook group and through word of mouth, but they would like to get more kids in attendance. Generally, four to 12 kids attend each meeting. The average age is around 12.
“It would be great to have more kids,” she said. “We know there are more people who aren’t getting the help they need, aren’t getting the support they need.”
Another unique aspect of the program is its roots in United Campus Ministry (UCM), an interfaith activism organization in Athens. Though the LGBT community and the religious community are often at odds, many groups, like UCM, are working to bridge the gap and provide a safe place for people to be themselves.
Rogers, the Assistant Director of UCM, was contacted by Evanosky and others at Ohio University’s LGBT Center about helping to create an after-school program for LGBT youth. As a longtime supporter of the LGBT community, she readily agreed.
Though UCM is best known for their free meal programs and work against food insecurity, Rogers says the organization functions to address a variety of issues. They host feminist, LGBT and racial justice groups, providing them with a place to gather and talk.
“Our tagline is that we are a center for spiritual growth and social justice,” she said.
Though UCM is a religious organization, it does not hold itself solely to one faith. Instead, it works to bring together people of different backgrounds and foster understanding. Rogers said UCM strives to look past differences in beliefs and unite people through what they have in common.
“[UCM] is rooted in Christianity, but we’re very much about being an organization focused on people of all faiths or no faiths,” she said. “Obviously, different people have different opinions on LGBT issues, but it’s very important to us to accept people.”
As a result, the focus of PRISM comes back to socializing, networking and belonging to a community. Through art, instructors and staff members are able to facilitate a safe and fun environment for LGBT kids to explore their identity and find a place to belong.
”I think everyone could use more access to the arts,” she said. “I think it’s a really calming way for people to get together and get to know each other. Getting to see that things are going to get easier. They’re going to find more community and this is just kind of the start of them finding that community.”
PRISM meets on Mondays from 3 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. at ARTS/West, 132 West State St.