SkyART’s Just-Us program serves youth ages 14-21 who have been impacted by the juvenile justice system.

*Scroll down to learn more about the Just-Us program*

Paintings by Just-Us participants at WNG

Installation images courtesy of Evan Jenkins

Through Just-Us, SkyART staff and Art Therapists seek to humanize the struggle of incarcerated youth by acknowledging them as whole individuals and artists. These works were created over an 18-month period at a facility operated by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice (IDJJ), where SkyART founder and CEO, Sarah Ward, and Director of Programs, Devon VanHouten-Maldonado, collaborated with groups of youth on several large scale paintings, which provided the early catalyst and inspiration for Can you see me?

Art can be a powerful tool for healing, processing and overcoming trauma, especially for young people who may lack the vocabulary to describe their experiences and access to mental healthcare. Experimenting and process-based art making provide valuable lessons in self-regulation for incarcerated youth. Trauma lives in the body. Somatic and corporal experiences through artmaking can help calm the nervous system without directly referencing or reliving traumatic experiences. Self regulation is an important tool for processing danger and overcoming the flight or fight response which can be activated by everyday occurrences after traumatic experiences.

One of the goals of Just-Us is to provide professional opportunities and exposure to new ways of thinking for justice impacted youth. It is our hope that the Can you see me? exhibition is the first of many future opportunities for formerly and currently incarcerated youth to gain professional experience as an exhibiting artist. The creativity, social-emotional learning and critical thinking that participants gain through Just-Us are essential skills for the 21st century.

At SkyART, we nurture the inherent creativity and experimentation of children. These skills are building blocks of artmaking that many adults lose to less aspirational school, work and social skills. We believe that learning to think like an artist can lead to more successful outcomes for system-impacted youth, so they can heal and create meaningful lives without ever going back to prison.

The names of artists who work with SkyART’s Just-Us program are confidential by law in order to protect their identities as minors.