Open Door Fund Grantee Spotlight: Firehouse Art Center

Firehouse Art Center is a hub for art in Longmont, Colorado. The art center, located in a historic firehouse, hosts exhibits, classes, and other programing for artists and art enthusiasts in the Longmont area. Among other core values, the Firehouse Art Center holds itself to the highest standards of curatorial excellence, builds community through a variety of programs, exhibits, and actions, and creates a welcoming and uncensored space that celebrates diverse perspectives and promotes artistic opportunities across the cultural and economic spectrum. 
One of Firehouse Art Center’s popular programs, offered in partnership with the Atlas Institute at CU Boulder, is Slay the Runway. The program fosters creative expression and support for LGBTQIA+ middle and high school youth, providing students with a community of support, the opportunity to learn new skills, and a celebratory space where they can showcase their creativity. The multi-week program culminates in a runway performance where youth get to show off their work to friends, family, and community. The program is offered at no cost to participants thanks to the Open Door fund of Community Foundation Boulder County, as well as SCFD (Scientific and Cultural Facilities District). Other partners include OASOS (Open and Affirming Sexual Orientation and gender identity Support) and ARC Thrift. 
During the design sessions, instructors start with simple projects that improve student sewing and design skills. As confidence builds, students are challenged to develop their own self-identity as they create an outfit for the showcase. At the fashion show, members of the drag community teach the youth how to present themselves with flair. In the end, the students unveil something they’ve created in their style and voice while surrounded by a supportive community of friends and family.  
“The artwork and process of ‘Slaying the Runway’ is so relevant to our goal of creating safe spaces for gender identity, gender expression, and gender celebration for LGBTQIA+ youth,” says Firehouse Art Center Executive Director Elaine Waterman. “The creation of the ‘look’ is the identity, the walk down the runway is the expression, and the attendance of friends and family is the celebration. While there are fashion camps and sewing classes in the area, no other local offerings address the issue of safe spaces for gender-expansive youth with this depth of creativity, and commitment to providing support and education to families.”  
LGBTQIA+ youth are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers (Johns et al., 2019; Johns et al., 2020). These youth also experience higher rates of severe depression, illegal drug use, and homelessness than their straight peers. By providing programing like Slay the Runway, Firehouse Art Center aims to increase support and community connection for a population of youth suffering from marginalization and discrimination. 
Waterman says Slay the Runway’s goal is to create an affirming and accessible space where creativity, expression, and positive self-image are celebrated. “For programs like Slay the Runway, we have a finite goal of creating the design looks for the Runway show, but we are also concerned about the infinite goal, which is to give our designers the skills and confidence to create a world that is more expansive, inclusive, and celebratory. Instead of seeing boundaries, we encourage our participants to see possibilities, where they can be in a community that celebrates their creativity, and where they, in turn, can inspire others.”  
Firehouse Art Center is a grantee of the Open Door Fund at Community Foundation Boulder County. Donate today to support the Open Door Fund.  
To learn more about Firehouse Art Center, Slay the Runway and their other programing, visit firehouseart.org