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A work of art 

I know art works!" exclaimed Wendy Mike, founder of FutureSelf, a nonprofit organization that Mike founded two years ago this month to provide arts workshops for at-risk youth. Like any passionate evangelist, Mike's fervor arose from personal experience; art, she often says, saved her life. "It's made the difference for me between surviving and thriving," she said.

Mike's mission isn't, however, simply a matter of personal zeal. Whole new fields of research are beginning to show the overwhelmingly positive effects that exposure to the arts can have for troubled youth. "Next to survival, art is essential. And it's innately therapeutic," she noted. "At-risk kids who become involved with programs like ours are four times less likely to get in trouble, and a great deal of new research is showing that art has unparalleled ability to close the socio-economic gap in education."

With the help of many volunteer artists and facilitator Jude Fleming, Mike invites young people from foster homes and residential and community treatment programs to spend an entire weekend seeing an art project from inception to completion. For many of the kids who attend the weekend-long workshops, it's the first time they've ever been to a gallery and working studio.

Statewide funding for the arts is at an all-time low, and Colorado currently ranks 50th in the nation in arts spending. Add to that the fact that Colorado is also one of the lowest-ranking states in spending for education (with arts education always on the chopping block), and the huge demand for FutureSelf's programming comes as no surprise.

This is the sixth in a series on the eight 2002-2003 Independence Community Fund recipients. FutureSelf will be holding its second annual Celebration Art Show at the Business of Art Center, 515 Manitou Ave., with an opening reception on Sunday, Jan. 19, from 4 to 8 p.m. The exhibit runs through Jan. 25. Call 475-1515 for more.

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