Youth Leadership for Success

The Youth Leadership for Success Initiative aims to reduce risk factors for youth suicide through expressive arts leadership roles for teens and young adults who face multiple barriers in society with the following premises: 

(1) Youth-driven expressive arts leadership roles (such as planning and executing an art show and performance piece at Berkshire Pride Festival) can create a sense of belonging, being needed in a group, and eliminate isolation. 

(2) Expressive arts leadership opportunities (such as working as peer mentors and co-facilitators in the AIRY program) can increase a sense of purpose and eliminate feelings of hopelessness; 

(3) Youth leaders in the AIRY program (such as co-facilitators, peer mentors and studio interns) become positive role models for other youth, modeling social skills, emotion regulation, mastery and problem solving; 

(4) Expressive arts leadership roles (such as planning, designing and publishing a color comic book specific to the current issues young people face) can bolster youth’s workforce skills for future success, enhance self esteem and have a positive impact in the community. 

(5) The YLS model can make learning suicide prevention skills more attractive to other youth, showing them how recovery is possible for their similar-age peers.  

Through the arts, the Youth Leadership for Success (YLS) Initiative builds upon and expands the previous AIRY model to ensure long term suicide prevention and to provide an enhanced level of support to teens and young adults at risk for suicide. YLS recognizes the value of lived experience of youth recovering from feelings of suicide, and helps them build resilience. Our ¨train the trainer¨ model teaches them leadership skills to become peer mentors, studio interns, performing arts planners, curators, group co-facilitators and program assistants. 

The YLS Initiative is funded in part by Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation and the Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention.

Art for Social Justice Project – AIRY Expressive Arts Leadership Group 2021

This will be our second year doing the AIRY Expressive Arts Leadership program, an independent youth-driven expressive arts group. This year our youth have chosen to focus on the topic of Art for Social Justice, which they may interpret in their own way, using any media (including digital art, video, poetry, collage, drawing & painting, clay sculpture, songwriting and performing arts). Examples of themes on this topic include racism, oppression and justice, feminism, equality and/or women’s rights, gender role expectations, societal stigma about mental health issues and rights of patients, LGBQTIA+ rights/equality, marginalized groups in society and minimization of youth voices, etc. Eight guest artists will be joining us to discuss their experiences and ideas about social activism in the art world, demonstrate methods or techniques, create art in response to working with the youth group, share resources such as links, videos or articles, and provide constructive criticism and feedback to the youth artists on their individual works. As we did last year at Love Yourself at the Colonial Theatre, we plan to showcase art made by youth and our guest artists involved in the Art for Social Justice Project in the Spring of 2021.

As part of the Youth Leadership for Success (YLS) Inititiave, several young emerging artists have held their own art exhibitions at First Fridays Artswalk in downtown Pittsfield.



Common Folk Artists Gallery, 73 Main St, North Adams MA


‘Elemental’ showcases a diverse body of acrylic and watercolor paintings and digital art, connected by the process of using art as therapy. The Elements of Step Up are based in nature – releasing negative emotions through Fire, balancing emotions by grounding to the Earth, calming and cooling through Water, and accessing wisdom and whimsy through Air and Wind.

The artists hope to convey how art is its own universe, malleable and changing as we change. Art has the power to humble us or make us feel like gods. Art materials stretch us beyond reality while nature’s elements offer insight into our personalities and relationships.


“War Heroes”
Aidan Spaniol at NUarts, 311 North St, Pittsfield

NUarts presents the first solo exhibition of youth artist, Aidan Spaniol during First Fridays Artswalk on September 6, 2019, opening reception from 5-8 pm in the gallery. “War Heroes” features a vast collection of hundreds of original comic drawings on paper, created over a several year period since his childhood. The drawings are inspired by franchises like Marvel, Star Wars, D.C., Dragon Ball, Black Clover and One Piece. Also on display are three Lego sculptures which are the blueprints for Aidan’s comics.

Aidan Spaniol is a fifteen year old comics and graphic artist from Pittsfield, MA. In 2019, he began adding color and size to his comic book characters whose storylines usually involve friends fighting a common enemy to protect what they love. The artist is also exploring acrylic painting using thick brush strokes and a palette of dark and vivid colors like Van Gogh.


On April 5, 2019, First Fridays Artswalk featured the debut art exhibition of 16 year old artist and illustrator, Rachael Bentz. The opening reception for ‘Myth and Nature’ was held from 5-8 pm, and the show is on view through May 30. Myth and Nature features 18 figurative works on paper in alcohol-based marker, colored pencil and watercolor, as well as original digital art. Each piece embodies a narrative myth about the feminine power of the natural world, inspired by emotions and nature expressed in the female form.

Rachael Bentz is a self taught artist and performing musician from Pittsfield. Her art and song were recently featured at the “Love Yourself” event at the Colonial Theatre in February. While this is her first exhibition, drawing and painting have always been her passion, as she plans to attend art school and pursue art as a career. See:



On March 1, 2019 First Fridays Artswalk and Unitarian Universalist Church featured the debut art show of 16 year old artist, Breanna Lytle. ‘Birdie’ featured brand new abstract works on paper and canvas.

The artist described her spontaneous pour method as “putting my emotions and colors into a cup”, in the Feb 10 premiere of the documentary ‘Messages of Hope’ at the Colonial Theatre, where all of Breanna’s works on view have been sold. Proceeds of art sales support the artist in her aspirations with youth leadership in the arts. See: