ROCKLAND —Two years ago, OUT Maine Executive Director Jeanne Dooley had a light-bulb moment while on a personal artistic workshop at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle. While there, she floated the idea of having the young people she works with at OUT Maine, a statewide resource for LGBTQ youth, go to Haystack for an immersive art weekend.
That idea eventually got traction, funding and momentum and this past September, nearly 70 LGBTQ teenagers from all around the state were able to meet up for a three-day immersive art weekend at Haystack. Paul Sacaridiz, Haystack’s executive director, went a step further and arranged for a dozen LGBTQ art instructors from all over the country to fly in and be the guest faculty for the weekend as well.
“We fund-raised to do this and Haystack made major in-kind contributions to make this happen,” said Dooley, of the inaugural trip. “And each student paid $25 because it’s always good to have some kind of buy-in. Not every parent was able to take off work and drive the student to Deer Isle, so we arranged for three buses from Portland, Augusta and Bangor to bring about half the youth to Haystack.”
63 Park St. Rockland, ME
Beyond special retreats such as Haystack and its annual Rainbow Ball Weekend, OUT Maine also offers support and resources to schools, trainings to providers, a weekly youth support group and a monthly parent support group one-on-one and on-line help for parents and families of LGBTQ teenagers. outmaine.org/our-work
Former OUT Maine high school students who graduated were invited back to be the “Junior Counselors” in the dorms, providing not only guidance and supervision, but an informal mentorship as well.
Students had studio workshops in blacksmithing, graphic design, printing T-shirts, pottery and metal-smithing.
“In the evenings the faculty made presentations and spoke about what it was like to be out or not out and then faculty and youth went back into their studios until 10:30 at night,” said Dooley. “One of the faculty from Wisconsin arranged and fund-raised for a transgender non-conforming punk band called ‘Gender Confetti’ to attend and play a set on Saturday night and the kids loved that. Haystack loved it. It was absolutely incredible.”
Since this inaugural immersion weekend, the plan is to offer it every other year to LGBTQ juniors and seniors all over Maine.
Dooley said before they kicked off the weekend, they did an informal “show of hands” poll to determine the group dynamics. She said 75 percent of the teens had never engaged with OUT Maine before and 75 percent had never been to Haystack.
When it was time to leave, students had to check in with Dooley before they left with a parent or on the bus.
“Every single kid was burbling with gratitude, for the connections they made, for the possibilities of their artistic expression, for the vision for what is possible as a gay person in the arts,” she said. “Some of them were in tears. I was in tears. It was like getting showered all weekend in affirmation, which is exactly what we needed to do for them.”
“The power of the Arts Community, and what it can do for LGBTQ youth is tremendous,” continued Dooley. “We often see that when LGBTQ rural youth graduate from high school in Maine, there aren’t a lot of opportunities; maybe working at fast food places or a supermarket. But, what we did that weekend is help shift the perception that a career in the arts is entirely possible. On one of the buses going back, one of our faculty overheard a group of teenagers discuss how Haystack had completely opened their eyes to really becoming artists. They were talking about how they could actually take control of their lives through this medium. It blew my mind. And this is the kind of work we continue to aim to do, to support that, and to find programs that continue to develop their potential.”
Dooley said she perceived this weekend as more than just one moment in time: it was powerful enough to launch potential contributions by other arts programs in the state of Maine. “My hope is that these art organizations can see what we accomplished here and can bring hope, possibility and vision to these young people who are starving for these possibilities. That weekend at Haystack has received more visibility around these issues than I’ve ever seen. I am hoping that this is a call to action for arts communities to help inspire the potential of LGBTQ youth in all kinds of media: art, music, theater. Anything that helps them find their self-expression, to find their possibility and to find their voice.”
To learn more, visit outmaine.org/our-work
Kay Stephens can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org