Lorenzo White epitomized the young man from the stereotypical "rough" background, involving all the things that show up in John Singleton movies. Then, at 17, he found FutureSelf, a local art program dedicated to maneuvering at-risk teens, creatively, through adolescence.
"Art gave me something I could grasp onto and believe in," says White, now 20. White believes this city teems with teenagers like him, who might find salvation in creativity. "Maybe my story will motivate others to have hope. If I can live through my stuff, maybe they can live through theirs, too," he says.
"For someone who's had no formal art training except what he got at FutureSelf," says director Amber Cote, "Lorenzo's talent is unnerving."
With the nonprofit's help, White's working on getting his art noticed nationally and internationally, and Cote believes he'll succeed. Earlier this year, he represented FutureSelf at the FAC Modern's Dream City 2020 show.
White's recent work will show at the eighth annual FutureSelf Exhibition at Smokebrush Gallery, the main gallery's final installation before moving to smaller digs. If you come on opening night, you can witness White and several other formerly troubled students "graduate" from the program. (That is, age out FutureSelf works with teens between the ages of 12 and 19.)
Young people can take as many of the free workshops as they want. But once they're successful artists, then what?
"We want to start helping teens build careers as the next step," Cote says.
Four former students have already returned to FutureSelf to teach, and White, along with several other FutureSelf graduates, will become a paid instructor in 2009.
FutureSelf's making changes en route to expansion. Founder Wendy Mike passed the director baton to former program director Cote on Jan. 1. And, on Feb. 1, FutureSelf will move out of Manitou Springs' Business of Art Center into donated basement quarters at "210" (local art-speak for Gallery Two-Ten at 210 E. Cimarron St., owned by Marianne Gunter). The move will save FutureSelf $6,000 per year and will provide a centralized location, "so more kids can get to us," Cote says.
When I ask Cote about the FutureSelf Web site's claims that art alone changes the most damaged life, she's ready with a seasoned answer: "We're very clear that we're not doing art therapy we're artists teaching art. But, we never censor teens' work, so they get to express themselves accurately, which heals them. They also experience success, through completion of a project, which many of these kids have never experienced. They learn to connect with other people through art and learn to trust through a common bond. Parents tell me repeatedly that nothing worked until FutureSelf."
FutureSelf estimates it has helped upward of 1,000 teens find hope and creative purpose in life since 2001.