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A new space has opened for LGBTQ+ teens to build community through art

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Natalia Torres del Valle.

Earlier this month, the Orange County Arts Commission opened the Teen Art Collective: LGBTQIA+ in Hillsborough — a space that works to bring teenagers together through art.

Natalia Torres del Valle, an expressive arts therapist, said she opened and created this space to help create a community for teens.

“I just wanted to create a space where teens feel valued and heard and know that they’re accepted,” she said.

She added that the space can act as a therapy session, with an emphasis on creative self-expression through visual, musical, written and dramatic arts.

“The thing about expressive arts therapy is that because we don’t have the words to fully share what is actually going on within us, the art is just another means of communication for that,” she said.

At Teen Art Collective: LGBTQIA+, the emphasis is more on the process of making the art rather than the product, Torres del Valle said.

Each session is $25 and is offered bi-monthly for 13-18 year olds at the Eno Arts Mill. 

Katie Murray, director of the Orange County Arts Commission, said payment shouldn't be a barrier.

Details on the scholarships that Eno Arts Mill offers can be found here.

For each of the sessions, Torres del Valle said her goal is to use her experience with expressive arts therapy to create themes that engage her attendees. She will provide basic art supplies needed for the session, but attendees are free to bring anything else that they feel will help them express themselves further.

“When young people are able to get involved in the arts and find a safe space and find a group of people that they belong with, it can be life-changing,” Murray said.

One goal for the space is to broadcast it in schools since involvement in the arts can help with wider issues that help improve a child’s life.

Orange County Arts Commission Vice Chair Anita Mills said it's important to create a community for marginalized groups. 

"As a gay person myself growing up in the 60s and 70s, nothing like this existed," Mills said. "It was impossible to know if there are any other gay or queer kids anywhere. I think it's really important that these young people have a place to gather and make friends."

Mills also said this space is an important resource for those in the LGBTQ+ community and hopes that they are able to take advantage of the opportunity.

Although still a new group, Torres del Valle hopes to bring in artists to do workshops, increase the group size and possibly allow attendees to put on an art show of their own. 

“I just hope the group continues to grow, and I’m just really excited about the possibilities,” she said.

Torres del Valle also said that they chose the Eno Arts Mill for this space because she has her own studio there, and fell in love with the location.

She hopes to incorporate the galleries being shown there to add a hands-on, interactive experience for attendees.

“She brought the idea to us, and I just immediately said 'absolutely, let’s do it,'” Murray said. “I’m just hoping that it’ll continue to grow as it goes on and [that] the people that are participating will find it an enjoyable place to be.”


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