ArtWorks News

How Are You, Really?

Chelsey Hughes' Flower Buddies, 1203 Sycamore St. Photo by Sandra Okot-Kotber.
Group in front of Chelsey Hughes’ Flower Buddies, 1203 Sycamore St. Photo by Sandra Okot-Kotber.

Dear Friends,

Each of us are experiencing many unique and varied challenges of the long pandemic year we’ve endured. At ArtWorks, we have been extremely concerned about our youth community and how extended isolation has impacted their wellbeing. According to new research by Interact for Health, almost half of young people (ages 18-29) in Cincinnati area say their mental health has gotten worse since the start of the pandemic.

I believe these numbers, and I am troubled by them. I’m sure everyone who reads this know youth who are impacted. This report hits close to home for ArtWorks, as an anchor for youth in troubling times. We create a space for positive relationship building through social and emotional support. It is reassuring to know that Youth Apprentices can feel safe enough to share their mental health struggles with our team and reach out for help. We have been able to work with youth and families seeking support and connect them to resources.

I think of these situations often, as I was amazed by the bravery and kindness displayed by our team who deeply care for youth they mentor. In 2020, we realized we need to go even deeper in our ability to coach and provide support, so we invited Dr. Tynisha Worthy of Youth At The Center to lead a Mental Health First Aid Training for our staff.

My saddest moment over the past year came in December, when I attended the funeral of a Young Apprentice alumna who died by suicide. I will always honor the memory of Jada Kirk, one of the most talented young women I have known. She was a bright light, and I send love to her family, friends, teachers, and spiritual community.

Jada’s Teaching Artist Lindsey Whittle reached out to the Youth Apprentices who were closest to Jada, showing incredible compassion and support. An exemplary ArtWorks leader, Lindsey wrote this to the team: “Depression and anxiety are symptoms that your mental health needs assistance. So just as you would seek help for a broken arm, I hope you will also seek help when you feel your mental health is presenting symptoms. Sometimes that can be telling trusted friends and family that you are aware you are isolating, or it could be that you reach out to a school counselor, or a doctor or other professionals for help. All of you have so much value, and are so important, and I hope you would seek help if you need it. Seeking the help you need is brave, not shameful.”

I thank Lindsey for her wise words, and I’m proud to share them with you.

At ArtWorks, we are reflecting on how we can build community that is supportive, where safe spaces are created for youth to build their own bravery, courage and confidence. In addition to peer and mentor relationships, youth at ArtWorks have access to another powerful resource—art as the tool to express their feelings.

In 2018, ArtWorks partnered with Interact for Health to develop a game to decrease stigma around mental health, and conducted research alongside Cincinnati Children’s on safe ways to break down stigma through conversation. We engaged artist Kate Tepe to lead youth artists to design and develop a game called Hey. Let’s Talk. Please request a copy of Hey. Let’s Talk here, and share it with youth in your life.

One thing we know is it is critical to have an opportunity to connect with others, and at ArtWorks we continue to build the tools to care for ourselves and for others. ArtWorks is dedicating our next Viva Voce Artist Conversation to Mental Health and Self Care in the Arts on Thursday, June 10 at 5:30 p.m. where Artists will be speaking about their groundbreaking works on this topic. We hope to see you there.

In the meantime, reach out to the youth in your life and check in on them. Let them know you are here for them and that they are a valued part of our community.

Wishing you well,

Colleen Houston, ArtWorks CEO & Artistic Diretor
Colleen Houston
ArtWorks CEO & Artistic Director

P.S. For anyone who is in distress, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255 or via chat at

The 24-hour Hamilton County crisis intervention service is available at 513-281-CARE (2273) or by texting TALBERT to 839863.

This column first appeared in ArtWorks’ e-newsletter. View this edition. Not yet signed up to receive our emails? Sign up here.

Read More in our April Newsletter

About ArtWorks

ArtWorks is an award-winning Greater Cincinnati nonprofit that transforms people and places through investments in creativity. The organization collaborates with community organizations and residents, businesses, governments, foundations and nonprofits to build creative works of art that bolster the region’s global reputation as an arts destination. ArtWorks employs professional artists who inspire and mentor diverse teams of youth, ages 14-21, helping them build 21st century career-readiness skills. These teams have completed more than 12,500 public and private art projects in its 25 years, including more than 200 permanent outdoor murals.