Group supports young artists to strengthen mental health | News, Sports, Jobs


Courtesy Photo Nick Lusardi, left, on tenor sax, and Connor Caplis, on guitar and keys, both recent recipients of Sawyer J. Boyd Creatives Grants, practice for a performance with their band, The Scholastic News.


ALPENA – If $3,000 could help save lives, it would be money well spent, a group of young creatives in Alpena recently decided.

Last week, the directors of the Sunset Project announced three $1,000 grants to support the creative endeavors of young people in Alpena.

The project’s founders, creative people themselves and inspired by the life of a friend they lost to suicide, raised the funds because they believe empowering creative expression builds resilience, which can help avoid other tragic self-inflicted deaths impede.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide was the second leading cause of death for people ages 1 to 24 in Michigan in 2020.

A few grants that help people pursue their artistic visions can’t reverse that number, but they can contribute to a growing acceptance of difference that Sunset Project co-founder and executive director Gavin MacDonald sees in Alpena.

That acceptance, visible in the form of giant murals covering downtown walls and other recent art installations and events, can give young people the encouragement they need to be emotionally strong, MacDonald said.

“When you feel supported in your creative endeavors, you feel better,” MacDonald said.

After a several-month application period in the spring, during which people aged 14 to 23 could submit essays and videos explaining how they would use the grant money, Sunset Project organizers awarded three grants to Alpena residents Alison Hosinski , Nick Lusardi and Connor Caplis.

The grantees have interests in a variety of art forms and recognize that creativity goes beyond painting, drawing and other traditional definitions of art, MacDonald said.

Caplis asked for funds to buy an amplifier for The Scholastic News, his band made up of high school students and a recent high school graduate.

Hosinski plans to use the grant money to create a phone app that will benefit the care community.

Lusardi, who produces both commissioned videos and personal videos, said the $1,000 grant bought a computer that will allow him to create documentaries and other films of a quality comparable to other people in the industry be competitive.

Lusardi, a high school senior, said he sees many other students struggling with stress and pressure.

“It’s a difficult time to be alive for everyone,” Lusardi said.

He knows other teens with strong artistic abilities who shy away from artistic pursuits that could support their mental health, fearing the world would reject their work.

The community can support these artistic young people and their emotional health by supporting such efforts as the recently added downtown murals and new sculptures around Alpena, he said.

“The more you see art in the community, the more willing you are to try your own,” Lusardi said. “It makes it seem possible.”

The Sunset Project organizers will continue to offer the Sawyer J. Boyd Creatives Grant, named for her friend and fellow Alpena High School graduate.

Boyd, whom his friends describe as exceptionally creative, committed suicide in 2016.

The Sunset Project grants, which the group will be offering again next year, aren’t really about the kids, MacDonald said.

They want to encourage the community to keep taking the kind of steps they believe could have saved their friend’s life “with a little extra help, a little extra boost.”

For information about a September 24 Suicide Prevention Walk in Alpena, visit Facebook or visit The Alpena News at 130 Park Place in Alpena for a registration form.

If you are experiencing emotional distress and need to speak to someone, call 988.



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