Chicago Youth Use Art To Spread Mental Health Awareness
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Chicago Youth Use Art To Spread Mental Health Awareness

Youth in Chicago's YMCA "606 Art" program hosted an art exhibit for May's Mental Health Awareness Month.

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Chicago Youth Use Art To Spread Mental Health Awareness
Hannah Mitchell

"606 Art" is a new program that takes at-risk youth and encourages them to use art for self-expression. These teens were given the opportunity to hold an art show in Chicago's Humboldt Park to showcase art pieces in honor of May's Mental Health Awareness month. The name, "606 Art" stems from the zip code designator for the city of Chicago. The zip codes begin with 606 and it is a common nickname for things in the city, including a famous trail that runs through the Humboldt Park region. The name takes the approach that the "city is our canvas" and the program was founded by a city muralist.

John Vergara is a celebrated muralist that runs 606 Art through the YMCA. He mentors teens, all of whom had no experience with painting, and gives them a new outlet to express themselves. These teens use art to communicate frustrations with racism, poverty, sexuality, trauma, and gangs in their own homes and communities. The program gives the youth something to be proud of, a brand new set of skills, and a circle that they can collaborate with and trust. It also allows the teens to dedicate time to art and keeps them out of the streets.

An art piece that incorporates the youth's frustration with the communities in Chicago, including violence, racism, and poverty.Hannah Mitchell


A flyer tells both the importance of mental health and the participants in the 606 Art show.Hannah Mitchell

Breary Jackson stands next to a mannequin that is painted to represent police brutality in her community. The mannequin, along with the smaller pieces displayed behind it, embodies how the violence perpetuates fear and trauma for the youth.

Breary Jackson stands proudly next to a painted mannequin that represents police violence towards community members. Hannah Mitchell


Jackson's trilogy of paintings express her way of coping with trauma.Hannah Mitchell


The teens also collaborate with each other to create art. A beautifully painted mannequin doubles as an interactive art piece that invites exhibit visitors to write how they cope with mental health. Collaborating also gives the youth a foundation to working with others and building trust.

A mannequin invites guests to write on it how they cope with mental health issues.Hannah Mitchell


A young man uses a sharpie to write on it how he copes with mental health issues.Hannah Mitchell

Being involved with 606 Art has improved the confidence and social skills of the youth involved in the program. Jelani Davis is able to confidently speak to gallery visitors about his art. Talking to strangers and people outside of his community is something that may have been hard for Davis to do in the past. Davis has won an award through the YMCA for significant improvements to his behavior. This is an award only given once per cohort, through various YMCA programs.

The program has built confidence in many of the youth participants in the art program and it is showcased through their ability to proudly discuss their art.Hannah Mitchell

Before Vergara started the 606 Art program through the YMCA, he was working with youth to paint murals in the city and working as an outreach worker in Humboldt Park and Logan Square. He has painted or restored about 50 murals in Chicago and is the creator of the 79th Municipal flag of Puerto Rico, also known as the "Paseo Boricua" flag. Davis and a few other youth, were able to work with Vergara on murals in the Humboldt Park region.

Vergara explains to guests the significance of a mannequin. This mannequin represents youth's struggles in sexuality.Hannah Mitchell


A mannequin represents the collaboration of youth and their struggles with sexuality.Hannah Mitchell

A photo captures the efforts the youth take before starting a mural. They must whitewash a wall with paint.Hannah Mitchell


A painting shows a young man praying. This is one of the paintings purchased at the exhibit.Hannah Mitchell

A lineup of painting present the pride and struggles of being a young African American in Chicago.Hannah Mitchell


A photograph shows graffiti art on a brick wall.Hannah Mitchell

Pencils are used to create life-like drawings at the 606 Art exhibit.Hannah Mitchell

606 Art encourages collaboration and passion among youth that may not experience it otherwise and also appears to encourage a healthy outlet for expressing frustration in their communities and their own mental health. The YMCA anticipates continuing the program through its "Youth Safety and Violence Prevention" program and will update the public when the next exhibit is planned.

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