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I grew up surrounded by art.  My father, Pasquale Cuppari, was born in Italy and was inspired by nature to become an artist. Growing up in New Jersey, I would sit and paint with him as he meditated on the inspiration coming to him. Through all of the up and down times we went through, we could always come back to art and immerse ourselves in imagination and creativity.  It is one of the things that kept me grounded as a child.

Art can be an expression of the beauty of life. Young people today are challenged to feel connected to this as the world of chaos swirls around them.  In last week’s article we discussed youth mental health and connection to nature. In this week’s article, we will explore how art and creative expression can have a profound impact on the development and well-being of young individuals. We will look at how art can help them cope with stress, discover their strengths, build confidence, and become agents of social change.

I witnessed this firsthand when my father was diagnosed with a serious disease in August of 2020.  My children and I, isolated in Colorado during covid, could not see or comfort him in person as he was in New Jersey and also isolated during covid. 

My kids and I decided we’d connect across geography and generations through art, and we created a virtual art gallery, and at age 14 Summer designed a new website to showcase his art. We learned about NFTs together, we talked, laughed, and created together. We decided to produce a big art show in NYC in the summer of 2022 celebrating his legacy and life through art. Many others felt the authenticity and love we shared as a family with a growing community, and we were covered in Arts Management Magazine.  Additionally, we were invited to display one of his pieces at an Italian Art and Fashion Showcase penthouse in NYC.  As my father’s disease started abating, it struck me how healing it can be to connect with ourselves and each other through art.

Here is a recount of Summer’s experience that summer: “I remember how magical it all felt when my family and I finally pulled off this art show we had all been working so hard on. We all wanted to do something special for my Nonno, to celebrate his life’s work. After hanging the first picture on the wall in the gallery, we all stood there, crowded around his artwork – just admiring the detail and love that was put into the pieces. I have always adored Nonno’s artwork, but when all the people started coming together to look at his artwork, it was the first time I truly felt it was appreciated enough. The effect on our family after this show was inspiring. We all felt closer having worked on this project to honor our beloved grandpa and father, and his health improved tremendously post-showcase.”

Our experience matches the recent research highlighted in the next sections of the article:

The Power of Art in Youth Development: 

Art has long been recognized as a potent tool for personal growth and emotional healing. Art therapy can help youth cope with stress, trauma, anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues by providing them with a safe and expressive outlet to explore their thoughts, emotions, and experiences. Art can also enhance cognitive abilities such as creativity, problem-solving, critical thinking, and innovation. Art can also foster social and emotional skills such as communication, collaboration, empathy, self-awareness, and self-regulation.

Breaking Barriers and Boosting Confidence: 

One of the biggest challenges that many young individuals face is the fear of judgment and self-doubt. They may feel insecure about their abilities, appearance, or identity. They may struggle to fit in or stand out in a society that imposes unrealistic expectations and norms. Art provides a safe space for them to break through these barriers, encouraging them to embrace their creativity without the fear of failure. By expressing themselves through art, they can build confidence, resilience, and a deeper understanding of their own strengths and capabilities.

A recent study found that participating in arts-based programs can improve the self-esteem and well-being of marginalized youth. The study involved 166 youth from low-income or homeless backgrounds who took part in various arts activities such as photography, painting, music, theater, and poetry. The results showed that the youth experienced significant improvements in their self-esteem, hopefulness, social support, and sense of belonging after participating in the programs.

Fostering Empathy and Connection: 

Art is not only a means of individual expression but also a powerful tool for building empathy and connection among diverse groups. Through collaborative art projects, youth can come together, learn from each other’s perspectives, and develop a sense of understanding and compassion for one another. Art can bridge cultural gaps, promoting cross-cultural exchange and creating a more inclusive and accepting society.

An example of how art can foster empathy and connection in addition to my story above, is the Voices of Youth project by UNICEF. The project aims to amplify the voices of young people from different countries who are facing various challenges such as poverty, violence, discrimination, or displacement. The project uses various artistic mediums such as photography, video, podcasts, and comics to share the stories and experiences of these youth with the world. The project also provides opportunities for dialogue and collaboration among the youth and other stakeholders, creating a platform for mutual learning and support.

Art as a Catalyst for Social Change: 

History has shown us that art can be a driving force for social change. From iconic paintings depicting social injustices to powerful protest songs, art has the ability to challenge norms and advocate for a better world. Empowering youth with art and the tools to express their ideas can inspire them to become active participants in shaping a more just and equitable society.

An example of how art can catalyze social change is the Black Lives Matter mural project. The project involves painting large-scale murals with the words “Black Lives Matter” on streets across various cities in the US and around the world. The project aims to raise awareness and demand action against racial injustice and police brutality. The project also involves the participation and collaboration of local artists, activists, and community members, creating a sense of solidarity and empowerment among them.

The Impact of Playa Puertecito Art Initiatives: 

In our Boulder to Baja project, we are planning to launch an art initiative in collaboration with PeaceJam’s BillionActs Fellows and the city of Loreto in November. We will work with local artists and youth to create murals that reflect the culture, history, and aspirations of Playa Puertecito. The mural project not only beautifies the town but also instills a sense of pride and identity among the residents. We will also teach the youth how to use cameras and capture their surroundings. The photography project not only enhances their artistic skills but also encourages them to see their environment in a new light.

Through these art initiatives, we hope to see the youth develop various skills and competencies such as creativity, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving. We also hope to see them develop positive attitudes and values such as self-esteem, self-expression, empathy, respect, and social responsibility. Most importantly, we hope to see them discover their passions and potentials, inspiring them to pursue their dreams and goals.

Supporting Art Education and Initiatives: 

As we recognize the transformative potential of art, it is crucial to advocate for and support art education and initiatives in schools and communities. By providing access to art programs, we can empower more young individuals to unlock their creative potential and use it as a force for positive change.

There are various ways that we can support art education and initiatives, such as:

  • Donating to or volunteering for organizations that provide art programs for youth, such as Dream Tank, PeaceJam, or American Art Therapy Association.
  • Encouraging schools to integrate art into their curriculum and extracurricular activities, such as through the Arts Education Partnership or the National Art Education Association.
  • Supporting local artists and art projects that involve youth participation and collaboration, such as through the National Endowment for the Arts or the Creative Capital.
  • Providing opportunities for youth to showcase their artistic works and talents, such as through the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards or the International Youth Arts Festival.

Conclusion: Art has the power to empower, heal, and transform young minds. Through artistic expression, youth can find their voices, gain confidence, and forge connections with others. Our Boulder to Baja project stands as a testament to the impact of art in nurturing the next generation of change-makers. Let us continue to support and uplift the creative potential of our youth, fostering a world where artistic expression is celebrated and embraced.

To read more empowering articles and share your voice in our EmpowerGen column, v[Join the ‘EmpowerGen’ Revolution – Dream Tank]

Tags: #youthempowerment, #arttherapy, #creativeexpression, #confidencebuilding, #culturalconnection, #socialchange

  • : American Art Therapy Association. (n.d.). About art therapy. Retrieved from
  • : Malchiodi, C. A. (2012). Art therapy and the brain: An attempt to understand the underlying processes of art expression in therapy. In C. A. Malchiodi (Ed.), Handbook of art therapy (2nd ed., pp. 5-15). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
  • : Hetland, L., Winner, E., Veenema, S., & Sheridan, K. M. (2013). Studio thinking 2: The real benefits of visual arts education (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
  • : Eisner, E. W. (2002). The arts and the creation of mind. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

: McHugh-Grifa, K., & Royer, N. R. (2019). Arts-based programs as protective factors for marginalized youth: A systematic review of the literature. Children and Youth Services Review, 105, 104419.