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Transforming Lives Through Art in Northwest Indiana

by Josefina Mendez

Students of several ages participate in a dance class with smiles on their faces.
Photo Credit: Daveed Holmes
Students embracing movement through dance in Monsi Davis’ class at For the Love of the Arts.

For the Love of the Arts uses creativity to help break the cycle of violence. Through their mental wellness education, social skills practice, and artistic courses, this unique organization provides a safe space for young people to grow and thrive.

It takes just a moment to change a life. It can be a sound that fills a room, words so sweetly compiled that they tell an unforgettable story, a photograph that inspires a generation, a dance that connects us to a new culture, or even a portrait that conveys an emotion hidden deep within the artist. Art moves us and helps us to process and grow.

For the Love of the Arts, a non-profit located in Northwestern Indiana dedicated to reducing youth violence, seeks to make life changing moments happen through art on a regular basis. Their ultimate goal? To change the negative statistics plaguing the nation’s youth into favorable ones, changing the tide by giving young people positive reinforcement and a safe place to express their artistic sides.

Launched in April of 2023, For the Love of the Arts’ new Creativity Center offers course opportunities in the arts, mental wellness education, and the practice of social skills. Together, they believe that these tools can change a life through community, accountability, and creativity.

Two people present at the front of a Juvenile Center room, surrounded by young people whose backs are to the camera.
Photo Credit: Daveed Holmes
Fernando Lopez Junior bringing some holiday cheer to residents at Lake County Juvenile Center on Christmas Eve.

Three Pillars of Growth

Founded in 2015 by Sade Carrasquillo, For the Love of the Arts originated from her profound passion for the arts and dedication to the wellbeing of young people. Stemming from a small group at her church, the organization was born out of Sade’s personal experience of loss and her subsequent determination to make a positive impact on the lives of youth.

An adult painting instructor holds up a brush for a student learning to paint.
Photo Credit: Daveed Holmes
Yemina Concepcion teaching her students the beauty of expression through painting.

Turning “the trauma of violence and death into life through the arts,” Carrasquillo created three distinct pillars for the organization: Confidence, Empowerment, and Love of Learning. These pillars have been interwoven within the curriculum and course offerings to help steward each student’s growth journey.

For the Love of the Arts is diverse in its offerings, giving young people a chance to engage in music, painting, photography, dance, virtual graffiti art and much more. Toddlers can have fun with the Little Creatives Day Camp program, which offers arts and crafts, kinetic stations, painting, story times, and a soft play area.

One of their primary focus areas is to bring life restoration to those who have been in the juvenile justice system. This is done by a series of mental health and social skill workshops and activities, like art therapy sessions led by self-taught acrylic paint artist Yemina Concepcion. The class has a discussion portion first and then an activation where participants paint what was discussed, “giving these students an opportunity to get out what is on the inside,” says Concepcion. This type of intervention prevents the onset of delinquent behavior while decreasing the rates of recidivism by a significant 16 percent.

For the Love of the Art’s most recent offering, the Fresh Start Recovery Café, will launch this summer and be available three days a week for individuals who are going through any type of recovery, whether that be from addiction, mental health challenges, or trauma. This free community resource will offer art courses that focus on mental wellness, with a meal included.

Many Hands Make Light Work

Since it began, many individuals have committed themselves to For the Love of the Arts’ mission. Their combined efforts shined brightly on April 1, 2023, the official grand opening of the organization’s new Creativity Center.

As the doors opened, the public experienced live performances by students in Manual Corazzari’s guitar class and Monserrate Davis’s dance class. Students can also choose from classes in acting, taught by Raquel Hill, the organization’s Board Treasurer.

Six students and one instructor hold their guitars up to the camera and smile
Photo Credit: Daveed Holmes
All hands on deck in Manuel Corazzari’s guitar class, held at For the Love of the Arts.

On the walls were artworks from the organization’s first set of resident artists, showcasing the creativity and talent present in the space. Paintings by Yemina Concepcion hung next to photographs by Daveed Holmes. Illustrations by artist and book author Arielle Gray were showcased beside graphic design by Fernando Lopez Junior.

Also on display were pieces from Tyrel Davis, Creative Director for Project Hood & CEO of Cream Shows Entertainment. He became a junior instructor teaching videography at For the Love of the Arts at the age of 19, and has continued on to be an artist-in-residence with the organization.

Taking in the whole event was Luis Carrasquillo, Sade’s husband. Luis has dedicated himself to assist all aspects of the For the Love of the Arts, supporting the development stages and current growth of the organization. He also serves as a virtual graffiti instructor, teaching students fundamentals of graffiti art using VR tools like the Oculus Quest and helping them explore how graffiti went from taboo street art to a well-respected cultural art style around the globe.

Throughout the grand opening, the room reverberated with music and laughter, exuding an atmosphere of love and collaboration as discussions unfolded about the growth and future of the Creativity Center. People shared fond memories of the organization’s early stages, while others marveled at its present path. Exiting the building, a profound sense of newfound hope and opportunity lingered in the air.

Seeing Students Grow

It can be challenging for children and youth to articulate their feelings and thoughts. Bringing creative expression to the forefront helps young people to express themselves, whether through music, visual art, crafting, writing, photography, drama, or movement. This exploration allows them to try out new ideas, develop their imaginations and problem-solve.

Students like Jesse have seen the benefits of creative exploration firsthand. Jesse was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder as a young toddler and given the report that he would most likely remain non-verbal. Since starting at the Creativity Center, “Jesse’s temperament has changed for the better,” said Jesse’s mom. “What once seemed intimidating for him is now a joy.”

Through creative exploration, Jesse has learned new techniques to remain calm in unforeseen circumstances. He also traded his video game passion for a new desire – the guitar! He often plays guitar for his dad and uncle. Through art, Jesse has grown his confidence and has told his teachers and classmates about his newfound passion.

For the Love of the Arts seeks to give life, purpose, and expression to kids like Jesse, aiming to assist in their overall development by providing opportunities within their community that may not been available otherwise.

With its official launch this past April, this community-centered organization is taking ground and championing opportunities for growth. As they continue to expand and make a positive impact in their community, For the Love of the Arts is paving the way for a generation of artists and changemakers.

Two young boys hold guitars, with their feet up on chairs as they play
Photo Credit: Daveed Holmes
Two young people playing guitar in tandem at Manuel Corazzari’s music class at For the Love of the Arts.

For the Love the the Arts is part of We the Many, a program that supports communities in the creation of their own unique artist residency experiences, encouraging the exchange of voices, cultures, and ideas relevant to each community context. We the Many is a project of Arts Midwest with generous support from the Mellon Foundation and in partnership with the Indiana Arts Commission.