Free Events, Literature and Poetry, Review, Youth

Get to Know Art from Ashes

by Robin McNeil

“Empowering youth through creative expression and personal transformation.”

“Poetry saves lives. Art from Ashes is run by people who know this, and it serves people who need to know it. This is one of the best uses of poetry that I have ever seen, and it’s right here in our own community. Bravo for AfA.” – Denver Poet Laureate Chris Ransick

Shiloh Michels - Youth PoetPoetry is art. Painting is art. Music composition is art (performing musical compositions is a re-creative art). Writing novels is an art. Photography is an art. These are creative arts, and because they are creative, they come from the innermost being of the individual who creates them. The more we learn about ourselves, the easier it is to learn about others. Through beauty, through surprise, through the invitation to exploration, the arts have become inseparable from our culture. Art from Ashes empowers struggling youth by providing creative programs that facilitate help and hope through expression, connection, and transformation. Expression facilitates a safe way for youth to tell their story in a nonjudgmental environment through the language of metaphor. Connection allows understanding and acceptance to develop with peers and adults. Transformation uses guided writing prompts to help youth create poetry that speaks to their value in their ability to choose a healthy and productive life.

The above paragraph might be considered the mantra of Art from Ashes. No artist would deny that their art gives them a sense of meaning and value, and removes them from isolation. It could be that because poetry is verbal, it affects those who appreciate it more quickly than some of the other arts.

Wolf Girl - Youth PoetThis is a poem, entitled Blessings, written by Nikki, age 16:

I am a giver at heart,
Take all the love you need.
I am brilliant,
Come see the world through my eyes.
I see beauty in every situation,
I see beauty in me.
Each broken piece still radiates…
I am strong, a small being
With a powerful punch.
And if you look just deep enough,
You’ll see I’m simply amazing.
I am amazing,
I will repeat this religiously,
Until I believe it
with every bone in my body.
I am pretty, I will stare at myself
and you know it’s true.
I am strong, I will not let anyone
tell me different.
I am amazing.

The young people in the program sponsored by Art from Ashes learn to show others how they see the world through poetry. Consider this line from a poem by fourteen-year-old Carlos concerning the shooting death of his brother:

“I miss my brother like the earth misses peace.”

Catherine O'Neill Thorn

Catherine O’Neill Thorn is the founder and executive director of Art from Ashes. Through her creative imagination and dedication, she is responsible for helping over 7,000 young people discover who they are, how they fit into society, and that they are capable of helping others themselves. Twenty years ago, it was Catherine O’Neill Thorn who cared enough to begin giving and allowing young people their own voice to tell their story through the use of poetry. She listened to the young people in treatment centers, totally without judgment, which was quite rare in an age when young people were unconditionally marginalized. Her compassion allowed her to demonstrate to them how they could participate with other individuals in the art of communication through poetry. She has shown them that words can increase their powers of perception in order to give them the strength of their own self-worth.

Because of Catherine O’Neill Thorn’s diligence and dedication, as well as the commitment and enthusiasm of her staff, Art from Ashes considered one of the top 50 youth arts organizations in nation.

“AfA was named a finalist for the prestigious President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities 2013 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award. In the certificate from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, Art from Ashes is noted as ‘one of the top arts and humanities-based programs in the country.’ The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities ‘bridges the interests of federal agencies and the private sector, supports special projects that increase participation and excellence in the arts and humanities and helps incorporate these disciplines into White House objectives under our Honorary Chairperson First Lady Michelle Obama.’ ”

There are several programs that Ms. Thorn is very proud of, because they have produced profound results by, as she phrased it, “…Establishing a sense of meaning and value and self-worth, which helps to show the young people a way out of their isolation.” Follow the links below to learn more about the programs at Art from Ashes:

Phoenix Rising Poetry and Spoken Word Program
The Phoenix Rising program encourages youth to recognize the power of words to transform perceptions based in victimization and helplessness to creativity and self-determination. CLICK HERE for more information on this life-transforming process or contact program manager Jessica Fitzgerald at

Casting Shadows Theater and Play Program
In order to cast a shadow, young people must learn to embrace the light within. CLICK HERE to learn more about our new transformational creative program for youth or contact Catherine O’Neill Thorn at

The Art from Ashes offices are located in the Denver Arts District one block east of Santa Fe on 9th and Inca: 853 Inca St., Suite 1A, Denver CO 80204. They are in the same building as the art gallery at 855 Inca, at the south door. Their annual holiday celebration will take place on December 10 at Appaloosa Grill downtown, at which you can enjoy performances by youth! Learn more about the event and RSVP here.

Learn more at their website.

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