Empowering Teens Through Public Art

Local artist Kathleen Warren helps the youth of Seattle gain pride through creativity
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Artist Kathleen Warren started volunteering with Urban ArtWorks after spotting some of the local nonprofit’s colorful murals around the city. Six years later, Warren, now the SoDo-based organization’s director, says she’s always been drawn to public art. “I’ve been in institutions like museums and galleries before that feel too sterile. It upsets me that it’s not art for everyone.”

Urban ArtWorks (urbanartworks.org) offers eight-week arts education sessions to at-risk and adjudicated youths ages 14–18. Kids cover city surfaces (such as walls and signal boxes) with vibrant murals, which are usually outlined by an artist before they’re painted, like giant coloring books. Through Urban ArtWorks’ Young Curators Group, a program Warren launched last year, kids also conceptualize or “curate” murals for professional artists to paint.

The organization, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in February, has created hundreds of murals across the city, adding color to community spaces, schools and businesses, such as Richmark Label (at Eleventh Avenue and E Pine Street on Capitol Hill), which last summer received a makeover Warren calls one of Urban ArtWorks’ greatest recent successes. More exciting projects are on the horizon in 2016, including a collaboration with 4Culture (King County’s public development agency for the arts) that will yield new murals in SoDo, as well as Urban ArtRide, a bike tour of Seattle’s public art scene.

The program’s work doesn’t just beautify neighborhoods, Warren says, it makes them safer. More than 70 percent of participants with prior records don’t commit another offense. “[Public art] provides a sense of pride for not only the kids but the communities that fund it,” she says. “If there’s a piece of art that they put their time and energy into, they start to respect that corner or wall and keep an eye on it, and maintain that pride as long as the mural lasts.” 

Need To Know

1/ Originally from South Carolina, Warren moved to Seattle 10 years ago by way of Atlanta, where she studied art history at Agnes Scott College. 

2/ The 32-year-old Madrona resident’s personal projects include large-scale installations of paintings on wood panels and temporary street paintings, which have been displayed at design festivals and the Capitol Hill Block Party. 

3/ Warren says she enjoys the opportunity to collaborate on projects with others outside her field, such as architects: “My whimsy met with their structure tends to make a really good partnership.”

Artist Kathleen Warren started volunteering with Urban ArtWorks after spotting some of the local nonprofit’s colorful murals around the city. Six years later, Warren, now the SoDo-based organization’s director, says she’s always been drawn to public art. “I’ve been in institutions like museums and galleries before that feel too sterile. It upsets me that it’s not art for everyone.”
Urban ArtWorks (urbanartworks.org) offers eight-week arts education sessions to at-risk and adjudicated youths ages 14–18. Kids cover city surfaces (such as walls and signal boxes) with vibrant murals, which are usually outlined by an artist before they’re painted, like giant coloring books. Through Urban ArtWorks’ Young Curators Group, a program Warren launched last year, kids also conceptualize or “curate” murals for professional artists to paint.
The organization, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in February, has created hundreds of murals across the city, adding color to community spaces, schools and businesses, such as Richmark Label (at Eleventh Avenue and E Pine Street on Capitol Hill), which last summer received a makeover Warren calls one of Urban ArtWorks’ greatest recent successes. More exciting projects are on the horizon in 2016, including a collaboration with 4Culture (King County’s public development agency for the arts) that will yield new murals in SoDo, as well as Urban ArtRide, a bike tour of Seattle’s public art scene.
The program’s work doesn’t just beautify neighborhoods, Warren says, it makes them safer. More than 70 percent of participants with prior records don’t commit another offense. “[Public art] provides a sense of pride for not only the kids but the communities that fund it,” she says. “If there’s a piece of art that they put their time and energy into, they start to respect that corner or wall and keep an eye on it, and maintain that pride as long as the mural lasts.” Artist Kathleen Warren started volunteering with Urban ArtWorks after spotting some of the local nonprofit’s colorful murals around the city. Six years later, Warren, now the SoDo-based organization’s director, says she’s always been drawn to public art. “I’ve been in institutions like museums and galleries before that feel too sterile. It upsets me that it’s not art for everyone.”Urban ArtWorks (urbanartworks.org) offers eight-week arts education sessions to at-risk and adjudicated youths ages 14–18.

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