Iliana Walter, from Marysville Charter Academy for the Arts, stands with her piece “Void because of substance abuse,” part of the new “Through My Lens” art contest housed at Yuba Sutter Marketplace in Yuba City. This exhibit is in collaboration with Live Oak High School and Sutter-Yuba Friday Night Live to give local youth a voice on important community issues such as substance use, mental health, and homelessness.


Live Oak High School’s Friday Night Live chapter, in conjunction with Sutter County Public Health, is hosting its first art gallery exhibit at Yuba Sutter Marketplace in Yuba City. 

This is a student-led project featuring artists from both Yuba and Sutter counties between the ages of 13 and 18. 

The exhibit is called “Through My Lens” and features mixed media work produced to explore the intersectionality of mental health disparities and substance use, and or abuse, within the community. Coordinators believe showcasing the youth’s perspective on these issues will help elicit positive changes in their environment and throughout the local area.

Dawn Redmond and Meagan Poage are credited with leading the charge on this project and are excited to see how the community reacts. 

“The most important thing to me is giving the kids a voice to be heard,” said Redmond.

“And the bios are incredible,” added Poage. “We were really blown away by the statements that the students submitted within the application process. They had to tell us who they were, what their art piece was about, and how it applied to the prompt. They were all very well aware of these issues in the community, especially post COVID.”

The idea for this project came from discussions with Live Oak’s Friday Night Live chapter in regards to what type of action plan would be suitable for their age group and relevant to the group's mission. Sutter-Yuba Friday Night Live’s goal is to build partnerships for positive and healthy youth development which engage youth as active leaders and resources in their communities.

The nationwide opioid epidemic has claimed thousands of young lives and these statistics continue to rise with the infiltration of fentanyl. This, paired with the rampant issues of drug use, mental health, and homelessness within Yuba and Sutter counties, Poage and Redmond felt the art contests genre was both timely and needed.

Poage said she had expected to be met with open arms by both counties, but had particular trouble getting access to those within the Yuba City Unified School District.

“There seemed to be a lot of push back,” said Poage. “I think some people were concerned about the sensitivity of the material, so it was a struggle to advertise and secure a gallery space.” 

The group had originally budgeted for around 50 student artists, but settled for the 12 which predominantly came from within Marysville Joint Unified School District. Unable to advertise within many schools, particularly those in Sutter County, Poage and her team turned to social media and community outlets such as 93Q radio.

“The selection process was a bit tricky,” said Poage. “We didn't want to turn anyone down or compromise the creative integrity of anyone's art by setting too many boundaries, but we also wanted to make sure it remained a safe and inclusive community event.”  

Yuba Sutter Marketplace welcomed the exhibit in one of its empty storefronts, which came as a relief to all who had worked on “Through My Lens.”

Poage hopes to continue these types of youth-based art contests and is very open to bringing the current display to other local galleries.

“Through My Lens” will be at Yuba Sutter Marketplace until Friday and is open daily from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. The gallery is located inside Yuba Sutter Marketplace, across from Upper Cuts barber shop and next to the food court. There are currently 12 artists' work on display and guests are encouraged to view the works and vote on their favorite piece. Voting is available via scannable QR codes for smartphones, or an exhibit receptionist will be available to take votes manually.

“Through My Lens” is free to the public and encourages viewer participation, not only through voting, but through community message boards and prompts. Guests are encouraged to draw “your symbol of happiness,” and share thoughts on what makes a safe community and the needs of local youth. Curators may use some of these ideas in future exhibit prompts and projects.

Winners of this contest are expected to be announced about a week after closing. The first place winner will receive an iPad, and the two runners up will be awarded air pods. Carrasco Yesenia, Live Oak High School’s intervention specialist, felt it was important that the prizes double as educational tools that can help further the students’ education and access to information. 

“Items such as these would help students achieve academic growth and competency,” said Yesenia. “Especially those students who come from a low socioeconomic background and do not have access to such items at home.”

Out of the 583 students enrolled at Live Oak High School, 67.2 percent are considered to be socioeconomically disadvantaged. Studies show fiscal instability increases the risk of mental health problems, substance abuse, and homelessness. The goal of this gallery is to promote dialogue between artists and the public, reduce mental health stigmas, and provide young people the opportunity for their voices to be heard.


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