Latest news from Art from Ashes!

All Sacred Behind the Veil

All Sacred Foundation 2019

On August 2, long-time advocates and tattoo artists at All Sacred Tattoo Foundation invited Art from Ashes staff, volunteers, and youth poets to their new shop in Wheat Ridge for the “Behind the Veil” art show and fundraising event.

Committed to community betterment, All Sacred Foundation artists “tattoo with heart.” All Sacred’s well-known and sought after artists provided tattoos to the public at these events and donated all proceeds to three area nonprofits, including Art from Ashes!

Four Art from Ashes youth poets performed in front of a crowd of supporters who applauded the courage of their voices. Hear AfA’s Founder and Executive Director Catherine O’Neill Thorn’s spirited speech below! (And check out her new tattoo in the slideshow!)

We are grateful for the continued love and support from Aries Rhysing, All Sacred Tattoo Foundation, and all those who donated to Art from Ashes at the Behind the Veil event. Congratulations on your beautiful new shop!

Video of Catherine’s speech: 08-2019 All Sacred-Catherine-smaller

Did you miss the event, but still want to support Art from Ashes and get some cool All Sacred art? Check out their merchandise store! One third of all proceeds go directly to Art from Ashes and our award winning programming:

World Denver Youth Workshops

Each year World Denver partners with Art from Ashes to present our program to dignitaries around the world, including the Philippines, Great Britain, Malaysia and other nations. We also are privileged to provide workshops for the Iraqi Youth Delegation.

The Iraqi Young Leaders Exchange Program (IYLEP) for high school students and adult mentors is a program sponsored and funded by the U.S. Embassy, Baghdad and U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Youth Programs Division. Through IYLEP, participants can develop skills in leadership and civic engagement through workshops as well as build mutual understanding between the people of Iraq and the U.S. through homestays.

My Voice Is
By Tava

My voice is stuck
Between the real self
And the person I want to be
Who is the person I want to be?
It’s the person people want to see

A person that keeps quiet
A person that society wants
A person who ‘behaves’

Could the self be defined
Without society’s standards?
Is there such a thing
As the self?
With the personalities
And looks
That society has taught us?

If I grew in the mountains, the trees,
Next to the water
Would I have been louder?

50th Anniversary of Stonewall

In 2009, Art from Ashes founded the Running of the Gays event—a faux marathon in heels to fund creative empowerment workshops specifically for queer youth. Every year for 10 years, Art from Ashes has raised money from the LGBTQIA community and advocates through music, live shows featuring drag queens and kings, and spoken word poetry from LGBTQ+ youth and supporters, in order to show both emotional and practical support for the struggling young people in our community.

Because 2019 is the 50-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots, widely considered to be the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States, Art from Ashes Communications Team Lead Abigail Fanara has written the article below that highlights the history of that movement and the inception of the first gay pride parades in the United States and many other countries.

50 Years Ago

In 1969, there were only a few places in the United States where LGBTQIA people could just “be”—the places your parents warned you about and that society condemned. One such place was the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York, now a designated U.S. National Historic Landmark and National Monument. At that time, Stonewall was owned by the mob, which took advantage of the liquor laws in New York that discriminated against anyone who was even suspected of being gay. They served watered down alcohol in unsanitary conditions without a liquor license, which was fine as long as they paid off the police. But that dirty, unlicensed dive bar was a sacred place for LGBTQIA people. It was a place where drag queens, gays, lesbians, and “street kids,” (many of whom were sex workers living on the streets, shunned by their families) were free to be themselves.

By 1969 the LGBTQIA movement was still small, but growing, and those who were a part of it were in constant danger of attack or arrest. Being “out” was not an option if you wanted to have a job, housing, or simply not be arrested or admitted to a mental health facility. Homosexuality was criminalized and treated as perversion or psychopathy. Police, particularly the NYPD, often used entrapment and raids as a way to arrest LGBTQIA people for occupying a public space.

1969 was a mayoral election year in New York City, and John Lindsay, up for reelection, pledged to “clean up” the Village that summer. The existing targets on the backs of LGBTQIA residents in the Village grew larger, and safety became more elusive. The raids and police harassment became more and more frequent. On June 28th of that year, for the second time that week, the police raided the Stonewall Inn. What happened during that raid changed the lives of LGBTQIA Americans forever.

Maybe it was the particularly violent treatment of a lesbian woman fighting her arrest, and equally as likely, enough was just enough, but the raid at the Stonewall Inn that night did not go according to plan. A large crowd gathered as the police were demanding I.D.s and loading drag queens into paddy wagons. At first, the crowd talked back and made fun of the police. Then the crowd began to grow, and according to witnesses, a sense of rage began to take over. The rage was about the harassment and violence committed by the police, about the box that society had forced them to live in, and the discrimination they faced every day over who they were born to be. Eventually, that rage turned into action for gay liberation.

Fires were started. Trash cans, bricks, and bottles were thrown at the police who, not expecting any trouble, were so scared they barricaded themselves inside the bar. The crowd outside grew larger and angrier. Finally, buses full of backup police showed up in full riot gear. They started pushing the crowd away from Stonewall, but the crowd would just re-form in an alley or side street and come back right behind the police. This went on for hours.

Protests continued for days and got increasingly more risky and violent, but the LGBTQIA movement had gained momentum, and they were determined to make it count. The Gay Liberation Front was formed. Sylvia Rivera and Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson, two gender nonconforming drag queens and sex workers who were at Stonewall on June 28th formed S.T.A.R (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries). S.T.A.R. was a leftist, gender nonconforming organization that served homeless LGBTQIA youth and sex workers by providing housing and other forms of support. The LGBTQIA movement was becoming larger and more organized. One year later, the Christopher Street Liberation Day parade marked the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising and was the first major LGBTQIA Pride march in the United States.

Those the Movement Left Behind

Though the Stonewall Uprising gave the LGBTQIA movement a giant push into the mainstream, there were groups that were largely left behind. Some feminist lesbians in the movement felt that gender nonconforming drag queens were being misogynistic when they dressed in women’s clothes. Because of this, at the 1973 Gay Pride parade, people like Rivera and  Johnson were asked to march at the back of the parade. These were the queens of the Stonewall Uprising, however, so they did not comply. Sylvia Rivera marched on stage and called the movement out for their mistreatment of women of color and the gender nonconforming drag queens who had risked and lost so much for the movement. She spoke of the work that S.T.A.R did with, “your gay brothers and your gay sisters in jail, who write to me every motherfuckin’ week and ask me for your help.” Rivera, nearly out of breath, yelled out her personal sacrifice that led to the existence of that very march: “I have been beaten. I have had my nose broken. I have been thrown in jail. I have lost my job. I have lost my apartment for gay liberation and you all treat me this way?” She ended her speech leading an emotional chant for “gay power.”

Most of the patrons of Stonewall were “street kids,” sex workers, and drag queens, and they often were on the front lines in the daily battle for gay liberation. They were harassed, murdered, beaten, taken to jail at higher rates than anyone else within the movement. In the case of gay rights (and arguably, in many cases in many movements), the ones with the least, gave the most. In 1973, S.T.A.R was dissolved.

In 1999, Johnson’s body was found in the Hudson River under suspicious circumstances. The police deemed it a suicide and closed the case without further investigation, although many of her friends suspected foul play. Some witnesses even told the police they saw her running from someone the evening she died. Horrifically, Johnson’s death is not unlike many within the trans community. For years, trans women (particularly trans women of color) were being murdered with no response from the police, the media, or the mainstream LGBTQIA community.

In 2000, eight days before the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, a 25-year-old trans woman of color named Amanda Milan was murdered at a bus terminal in New York City by a man who had been harassing her. She was stabbed in the neck and died at St. Vincent’s hospital that night. Milan’s case garnered attention and outrage from the trans community. Rivera reformed S.T.A.R (Street Trans Action Revolutionaries) in response to Milan’s murder and worked to ensure her case was investigated and called for a broadening of the definition of gender to the New York City Human Rights Law. For the first time, people were paying attention to the murder of a trans woman, yet her murderer was still only sentenced to 17 years in prison.


While many battles in the fight for gay liberation have been won, there is still so much work to be done. Today, trans women of color are murdered at staggering rates and face more violence than anyone else in the LGBTQIA community. Murders of trans women of color still largely get brushed under the rug, and if there is a conviction, the jail time is like a slap on the wrist. While more youth feel they can openly identify as gay, lesbian, transgender, or queer, rates of violence and harassment are still high. LGBTQIA youth face higher rates of addiction, homelessness, and suicide than their non-LGBTQIA peers.

In spite of the forces against the LGBTQIA community, the movement is growing bigger and getting stronger. Whenever you start to shine brighter, the darkness will try harder to overtake you. But just as the queens of Stonewall fought back and changed the course of the gay rights movement in one significant evening, so can we. Most of the people at the Stonewall Uprising were young, some still in their teens.

50 years ago, on June 28th, 1969, a group of young outcasts changed the country for the better. They are the reason we celebrate Pride every year. They didn’t have much, and at the time, they didn’t even have a unified community, yet they still managed to make a serious impact and put LGBTQIA into the mainstream.

Progress ebbs and flows and there will always be work to be done. So celebrate this month, celebrate the progress that’s been won, the people who won it, and the people who fight still. Celebrate yourself, have pride in who you are and everything that makes you you.

As we all continue the fight for liberation, let’s remember the work and sacrifice that it took. Remember Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, remember Matthew Shepard and Amanda Milan and all those who have left us too early, and so tragically. Remember what we all are fighting for, remember to be inclusive. Most importantly, remember that none of us are alone; that there are many of us who stand together—that there are communities like Art from Ashes that exist to hold space for those who don’t believe they belong. ❤️

Colorado Creative Industries Award 2019-20

Art from Ashes is honored to again be recognized as one of the top nonprofits working in the arts in Colorado by Colorado Creative Industries.

Getting through the Bullshit: An Interview with Allison Parks

by Anna Ingraham

When I was asked to interview Allison Parks, an Art from Ashes donor, I didn’t realize that I had already met Allison. I volunteered at the Art from Ashes annual Celebration of Light in December, where I had the honor of witnessing not only the incredible performances by youth, but also a large, surprise donation from a lovely woman and her real estate company. I was standing in the back as Allison gave Catherine her generous gift, but even from my corner, I felt that the magic wasn’t only coming from the warm lighting.

Of course, Catherine brought Allison to the microphone to say a few words, and I remember the passion in her voice for supporting the work that Art from Ashes does to empower youth. I also remember the joy and love on Catherine’s face as she listened, and the general feeling of goodwill that permeated the room. It was indeed a Celebration of Light.

Allison Parks owns a real estate brokerage called Conscious Real Estate. They run on a donation model, which means that when anyone buys or sells a home, her company donates ten percent of the commission to a nonprofit of their client’s choice. Sometimes the clients don’t know which nonprofit to choose, so they leave it up to Allison. While talking with Allison on the phone, I was lucky enough to learn more about why someone who could donate to any of the various nonprofits in Denver feels so strongly about supporting Art from Ashes.

Featured donor, Allison Parks, with AfA Executive Director Catherine O’Neill Thorn

Allison met Catherine three or four years ago when she was taking time to go around Denver meeting nonprofit directors to tell them about her company. She had an evening appointment with Catherine, and she laughingly told me that she wasn’t looking forward to another meeting after a long day of work. She didn’t know what she was walking into, for as soon as she arrived at the Art from Ashes space, Catherine invited her to join a poetry workshop full of teenagers already in session. She remembers thinking, who are these kids? But as she began to participate, Allison was blown away by what the teens wrote and were willing to share. Being in the workshop had a huge impact on Allison, causing her to immediately fall in love with Art from Ashes and with Catherine. Since then, she’s enjoyed making surprise donations whenever she’s able, including this past December.

Allison joined the board for Art from Ashes, but soon decided she could have a bigger impact on the organization by donating through her real estate business. When I asked why she continues to donate and support AfA, Allison said, “Catherine got me. There are so many good nonprofits, but she just got me somehow.”

She spoke about how many organizations she’s visited to discuss donating, and how she appreciates “the authenticity of not having to sit around and read somebody’s stupid report that’s written on card-stock.” She continued by saying, “I don’t care what’s on the paper. Give me a story of what happened in someone’s life. It’s partly Catherine and partly just the kids. It hit me again during the Christmas party. I’m so damn proud of those young people. What they do is just mind-blowing, and Art from Ashes gives them the vehicle to do that. I have friends who participated in AfA when they were teens, and it was huge in their lives. It was a turning point for them.”

About her own experiences as a teenager, Allison told me that she grew up in rural Illinois, where there were not many resources or programs available for exploring writing. She wrote a little, but didn’t have the venue to explore her voice like the AfA participants. She talked about her experience in one of the six-week adult writing workshops AfA offers. She easily remembered one of the first exercises they were asked to do in the program, where they were instructed to write a three-minute poem from the prompt “Love is.” When the participants read their poems out loud, they were told to change it to “I am.” Allison said, “So many people start crying when they read those words and acknowledged that they are those beautiful things. To be able to stop and witness that for a minute brings on tears for everybody. It’s a good message of reconnecting with our core essence and remembering who we are.” She added to this idea of cutting through the surface to get to our inner core, calling it, “getting through the bullshit.”

It seemed that the biggest take-away Allison got from the adult workshop was the importance of self-love, a message that also comes through in the workshops that AfA offers to struggling youth. Allison said, “Our culture does not teach self-love. So much of consumerism is based on getting us not to love ourselves as we are. It’s important to start taking those steps toward loving yourself and realizing who you really are, that you are enough, and that you belong here. Sharing the poetry and the work you do is about embodying that voice, solidifying that self-love. Having other people be your mirror helps the roots grow.” Her final comment about the adult workshop was that “it makes you absolutely realize that this model and curriculum is pretty potent.”

When I asked Allison how she sees herself continuing to work with Art from Ashes, she said that she sometimes fantasizes about facilitating youth workshops. For now though, she’s making time to care for herself and is thinking about taking up singing and dancing. She said, “I have a feeling that once I dive in, I might find something there. Sometimes when we indulge in that creativity, it helps uncover something,” a statement with which, I feel, all of us at Art from Ashes would agree.

Allison’s sense of humor and depth of thought came across loud and clear. She will continue to donate to AfA and I could tell even from our brief conversation how much she cares about giving youth the space and resources to express themselves and connect with their creative genius. Art from Ashes is honored to have the support of such a creative, honest, and generous woman. It’s individuals like Allison and moments like the holiday party that keep our spirits strong and fuel us to continue bringing empowering workshops to the youth we serve.

Celeste and Jessica

Staff Updates

A March Hare and Thin Mints

Featured AfA Staff Members

Article written by Becca Hannigan

If you haven’t been able to spend time with and get to know either Celeste Seiler or Jessica Jarrard, I’m here to recommend doing so. They were kind enough to take some time out of their workday in the AfA office to chat and tell me about themselves (and each other at some points in the discussion) and their new positions within the organization. Here’s a brief rundown of some things I learned about their work at AfA and lives otherwise:

Celeste Seiler (Michele Skye on social media): Agency Administrator
From: San Antonio, Texas
Celeste is married to a CMT and RN and is the mother of two girls, age three and five.
Journey at AfA: Celeste began by volunteering, then worked as an intern last January. She moved into a position as Agency Administrator/Program Manager in April 2018.
Excited about: “A lot of new things that we (AfA) are establishing: new relationships, coming up with plans to generate more funds, and getting out in the community even more.”
Character from Alice in Wonderland she’s most like: “White Rabbit. I always have a sense of urgency about me. I can’t be late.”
Takes her tea: “Plain.”
Loves (other than AfA): “To cook. It’s my thing that makes the stress melt away. I love southern comfort food. Mexican food is my favorite. I make an awesome enchilada casserole.” (check out her [old] blog, featuring delicious vegan recipes:
Olive oil or butter? “I’ve been a vegan for seven years this month. So probably olive oil.”
Other info she wants to share about AfA: “We became members of the Art District on Santa Fe last year, which means we have the opportunity to be part of ‘The Art of Brunch.’ It will be once a month, on the last Sunday of March, April, and May, from 11-3pm each day. It’s basically like an open house for art, poetry and music.
“I signed up to do the Colfax Marathon. We need more people to sign up!” [just put Art from Ashes in as your charity when registering: ]
“AfA’s 2019 calendars have been printed! We’ve been asking for a $50, but since we have about a dozen left and it’s well into the year, we’re asking for $20. It’s full of beautiful youth artwork and poetry!” [donate here and request the calendar in your note:]
Other badges she wears (We’re guessing she needs a sash for all these badges): President of the PTA and Girl Scout Cookie Sales Manager “I’m way too involved in everything. I keep busy.”
Favorite Girl Scout cookie: “Thin Mints are the only vegan ones. Before I was vegan, I really liked the Trefoils.”

Jessica Jarrard: Director of Operations
From: North Carolina, in a small town near Winston, Salem
Journey at AfA: Jessica started as a volunteer in 2014, working in communications and grant writing. She was on the Board of Directors for several years and is now the Director of Operations. As D of O, she oversees volunteers, FUNdevelopment, HR, and community collaborations, AKA making sure that everyone knows about us.
Excited about: “We’re just really excited to look at new ways to develop funds and new opportunities for serving more young people, along with increasing volunteer engagement—because it’s all so connected. You get more people involved, then new things start to happen, which means you have more to communicate and thus need more people to help communicate, and on and on.”
“Denver’s changing. There are many new organizations out there, and a lot going on, which means we have more opportunities for collaborating. AfA also recently won the Denver Mayor’s Award, which is helping us boost our potential partnerships and collaborations.”
Character from Alice in Wonderland she’s most like: (after much discussion/contemplation) “I guess you could say I’m the March Hare, because it’s always tea time. I do love tea parties…but I’m not crazy! Much.”
On the subject of tea: “I love all tea.”
Loves (other than AfA and tea): “I like to be outside. To hike. I’ve done 35 of the Colorado 14ers. The Wetterhorn is my favorite.”
Favorite local trail: “The Chicago Lakes trail.”
Pets: Jessica is the mother of “an adorable husky mix, Bernie.”
Favorite Girl Scout cookie: “Thin mints in the freezer. Tagalongs, too.”

Catherine O’Neill Thorn Honored As A Westword Colorado Creative

100 Colorado Creatives are chosen by journalist and artist Susan Froyd for the Westword honor and published on their site (below). You can read the Executive Director of AfA’s thoughtful and often irreverant ideas on the state of the arts in Colorado and her personal motivations and inspiration for her work. Susan’s Facebook post is also linked below.

Click here for the story in Westword

Click here for the Facebook post

2018 Westword Article

Catherine O'Neill Thorn is a Colorado Creatives in all the best ways, as an eloquent writer, speaker and poet, as well…

Posted by Susan Froyd on Monday, December 3, 2018

ROTG Recap

Running of the Gays flyerby Boone Riddle

High heels and high spirits, open hearts and open bar tabs, tears and twerking, performance and passion. At the intersection of activism and celebration, where vulnerable expression and raunchy comedy are served up in spades, where dedicated warriors pour out their souls as they pour another cocktail—THIS is Running of the Gays. 

The 9th Annual Running of the Gays once again put on this faux marathon in heels to highlight the brilliance of our youth. A silly event with the serious purpose of supporting empowerment workshops for queer youth.  

Our 2018 event was both a familiar family reunion, and a leap forward for our organization. Our incredible youth poets captivated the audience with open, raw, and frequently hilarious expressions of their struggles and their victories. Other performers threw down sultry musical performances as the crowd cheered and tipped and begged for more. However they chose to express themselves, the showcase of talent from our youth performers was a powerful, tangible display of their hearts—and AfA’s work to facilitate their transformation.

Running of the Gays continues to gain visibility with local media, community, and supporters. Many new faces joined the team and gave their all to make this event happen. Running of the Gays was even featured on the FOX31 network! Our incredible network of staff, volunteers, and donors is stronger than ever. Planning for next year’s Running of the Gays is already underway! This is all made possible by your support for Art from Ashes. Thank you. We’ll see you at the 10th Annual Running of the Gays next year!

Thank you to our 2018 sponsors!

Ace Eat Serve



Fleur Salon

X Bar

The Bank of Denver

Charlie's Nightclub Denver

Pizzeria Locale

For some hilarious photos and videos of the event, check out our Facebook page:

To Need Or Not To Need

To need or not to need?

(download or view as a pdf: here)

I haven’t used the word “need” in a direct request in 15 years, since the inception of Art from Ashes. At that time, I was convinced that because our process and our results were so amazing and innovative (which they are), as we shared our work with people, we would soon have enough funds to spread our programs of connection and power through creative expression all over the world within a few years!! (In my defense, it wasn’t so much naiveté as a sincere combination of trust and faith…which, now that I think of it, could be considered naiveté. 🤷🏻‍♀️)

Turns out, although our unique creative process sets us apart, like all the other nonprofits doing awesome work, we have indeed had to—and continue to—spend countless hours of agency time and tons of resources writing grants and grant reports, seeking donations, doing statistical analysis, managing a database, communicating in a way that inspires and engages people, holding events, recruiting and nurturing volunteers—not to mention paying the bills and of course paying the lovely and hardworking people who must pay their bills.

Over the past 15 months, Art from Ashes also had to face the challenge of my cancer diagnosis. Although I have worked the entire time I’ve been fighting cancer, staying as financially stable as in previous years has been demanding, and hope has sometimes seemed elusive. Yet hope and empowerment are exactly what AfA provides. They are as vital to existence as more tangible things like food and clothing—just ask anyone who is fighting for their life. Donating to AfA provides hope to a population that may otherwise not be served. So, yes. We need you. The youth need you. 

What we do STILL works like magic. What we do is still changing the world for thousands of youth, as well as improving the landscape of our communities. And what we do is still unique and special—just like the young people we serve (544 to date in 2018, plus another 100+ who signed in but didn’t fill out intake forms).

Our amazing results have won us numerous awards, and we hope you’ll join us in our continued success, so we can accomplish even more. Art from Ashes needs $20,000 in financial support by year’s end to help us increase the number of youth served in 2019 to 750 and to add transformational dance and movement to our program offerings!

There are at least five ways you can support AfA during this Season of Light and time of generosity and thanksgiving. We hope you will consider one or more:

  1. #GivingTuesday! This Tuesday, November 27, Facebook has teamed up with Paypal to MATCH ALL DONATIONS through Facebook fundraisers. You can either start a fundraiser (instructions here) and select Art from Ashes (look for our logo) or give to an existing one (link to ours!). Please do one or maybe even both!
  2. PayPal Gives Back! If you want to donate directly through PayPal with your account, they’ll be increasing all holiday giving by 1% through PayPal’s donate page and the PayPal app from November 27 through December 31. That’s sweet! No fees, either! Any size donation this holiday will be worth that little bit extra.
  3. Colorado Gives Day! Every year, Community First Foundation and FirstBank present a statewide movement that celebrates and increases philanthropy in Colorado. There is a $1 million incentive fund and we get a little piece of it depending on how much is donated during the 24 hours starting at 12:01am on December 4th. HOWEVER, you can plan ahead and give now, allocating the donation to CO Gives Day! We hope you will include us when you give this year.
  4. Celebration of Light! Each year on Colorado Gives Day, we invite all of our past, present and future partners, volunteers, guest artists and poets, youth participants, donors and grantors to a holiday party that celebrates this season of light. Our events team has been hard at work planning this wonderful event. We would love to see you and show you what we’re up to in our beautiful space at 10th and Navajo.
  5. Volunteer! Most of our volunteers also work full-time jobs, and while we ask only 6 hours a month, that can be difficult for many. If you have six hours a month to give, we would love board members, interns and people skilled in communications, events planning, grant writing, FunDevelopment, database management, office work, and anything else essential to running a business. We also provide training for facilitation if you’d like to work directly with our young people. Apply here!

Well, there, I did it. To need or not to need? The answer is we need you now more than ever. And because giving is a blessing, we hope you will consider blessing yourself and the youth we serve before the end of the year.

With trust and faith (still),  


PS. Pre-order our 2019 Art from Ashes youth art/poetry calendar! Just be sure to request the calendar when you make a $50 donation.

Also, check out our holiday letter and read about my cancer treatment update.