AUSTIN -- It started in 1997 as a summer-only art program for kids at Gardner Betts Juvenile Justice Center. Now it's a year-round program. Dozens of young painters will be featured Wednesday night at an art show and silent auction.
It's a whimsical portrait of the State Capitol in pink, and the artist,17-year-old Juan, never thought something he'd painted would be in the spotlight.
“They make it interesting for us. They don't want us to get bored, they want us to do new things to get our mind focused on something instead of trying to do something negative,” Juan said.
Juan's painting is one dozens done by teens serving time in the Juvenile Justice Center.
Close to 60 pieces are being auctioned off.
Those who oversee the program called Project Bridge say it's a way to help the kids realize they can be successful after they leave Gardner Betts.
“It opens their eyes to future possibilities, of things that might be on their horizon that they've never considered,” said Travis County 98th District Court Judge Rhonda Hurley.
The art program also helps the teens deal with emotional trauma and discover hidden talent.
“For them to have the ability to express themselves in a beautiful and healthy way and for them to see their emotions thoughts feelings and inner lives on canvas is pretty incredible,” said Liz Cass, who oversees the art and music program.
Many of the young artists who created the colorful works have never picked up a paintbrush.
“They start to become a little free, let out their emotions,” Cass said. “It's amazing what they can create.
Project Bridge is funded by the Real Estate Council of Austin. Proceeds from the art auction will be used to buy more art supplies for the year.
“We've already raised $40,000 just with sponsorship sales alone,” said Real Estate Council spokesperson Liz Sanchez. “We're excited going into the event that we've already met out goal.”
A number of teens who leave Gardner Betts and Project Bridge end up back in the juvenile justice system. Those who run the program believe artistic expression can still play a part in the kid’s troubled lives and bring hope for the future.
“They can learn communication, cooperation, thoughtfulness, patience, all of these life skills that might not be learned otherwise,” Cass said.