The central design of the mural features a vibrant array of birds with various symbolism. (Photo Credit: Chris Rudisill)

Nearly 80 people gathered at Time Out Youth (TOY) on Saturday during the organization’s first large in-person event in over a year. Like other community organizations, the pandemic caused TOY, a Charlotte nonprofit serving LGBTQ youth, to go virtual for much of its services since March 2020. 

When it adapted to virtual platforms and programs, Interim Executive Director O’Neale Atkinson thought for sure they would impact less kids in 2020. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” said Atkinson on Saturday. “We actually impacted over 1,300 (unduplicated) young people directly through programs, services and direct outreach, almost a 30 percent increase from the previous year.”  

Being socially connected while physically distant has become the impetus for much of the organization’s work. One that will continue post-COVID. 

“There are so many things that we have learned in the past year that we’ll carry with us,” said Atkinson. Time Out Youth hopes to hold in-person programming in the fall. “All these platforms won’t go anywhere. This transformed the landscape on how we do the work and how we reach youth that otherwise would never be able to walk in front of our doors.” 

In addition to the temperature checks, mask mandates and hand sanitizer stations that we have grown accustomed to, people were welcomed back to the building on Monroe Road with a new mural by Bree Stallings. It is the newest addition to Charlotte’s growing public art scene and one of three that Stallings has completed in the past two months. 

She worked with over 20 local youth to complete the project at TOY, a culmination of the creative initiative called “Holding Space” that focused on developing identity-based workshops. The project was supported by an ASC Cultural Vision Grant and a “Bear HUG” grant from Charlotte is Creative.

Stallings spoke about the process of working with young LGBTQ people on the project. “Through workshops based on identity, stereotypes and assumptions, I started to pull together a design — one that is intentional in connecting people with each other and the spaces they occupy,” she said. 

A rainbow spectrum of birds and floral patterns cover the wall, each steeped with symbolism of hope, love, joy and strength to name a few. It is bookmarked by portraits of Leo Street and Ken Isaac, two young people from TOY’s programs who participated in the workshops. 

Stallings used skin tones “as an allusion to the modern trans flag.” In combination with the vibrant colors across the wall, “Holding Space” also references the Progress Pride Flag designed in 2018 by Daniel Quasar. Quasar’s color scheme included both black/brown stripes as well as those from the transgender flag (pink, blue and white) in a chevron added to the classic rainbow. Like the new flag design, Stallings’ mural focuses on the current needs within the LGBTQ community and centers the lives of Black LGBTQ people.  

This weekend’s event also marked Time Out Youth’s 30th anniversary. The organization started as a small group in the home of Tonda Taylor on April 8, 1991 and over the past three decades has provided social, health and supportive services to LGBTQ youth ages 11 to 20 years old. 

Thanking donors and parents in attendance, TOY board chair Jacob Hamm said, “It has done so with the financial support of people who understand the importance of our mission to foster unconditional acceptance and create safe spaces for the LGBTQ community.” 

Stallings hopes this public art piece will play a role in the organization’s future. Before ceremoniously pulling back the tarp that covered the new mural, she said, “I hope this public art piece challenges the public to hold space for our youth – to see and know them as beautiful, vibrant, worthy, exceptional, talented, joyful, complex and human.” 

Editor’s note: Time Out Youth board of directors member Jacob Hamm is married to qnotes’ contributor, Chris Rudisill.

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