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Early last year, six Eureka teens were moved to action when a peer was involved in a violent crime. This was not the first incident - they had been aware for some time of dangerous levels of drug use and violent behavior among their cohort. Enough was enough, they thought. It was time to do something. They got together with an Americorps Vista supervisor, "to discuss ways to avoid group violence," says Darian Clark, one of the founding members and a driving force in the group. "But our conversation got somewhat off-topic, and drifted toward our general teenage boredom." More than anything, kids needed something to do.

But, as Clark states, the opinion of a small group wasn't enough. They took their task seriously, and started off with a needs assessment including a survey of 600 area high school students and community forums. What was revealed was the need for safe places for kids to get together, express themselves and just "hang out" in an environment designed by and for teens. Thus, they created The Coffee Opp.

Well, OK, they haven't quite created it yet - they've come up with a concept, created a network of people and a vision, but they don't have a physical location yet. Their stated mission is, "to offer older youth in the Eureka area a space free from drugs, alcohol, violence and discrimination and to provide leadership skills ... in the form of a youth-run coffee house, art hang and music venue." That's a pretty long sentence, but it's more coherent than a lot of mission statements I've read, which tend to leave me glassy-eyed and wondering what exactly I just read.

They have also hooked up with some important community groups, including the Boys and Girls Club and the Ink People, whose Dreamaker program is offering them assistance with grant writing, administration, some office equipment and a place to meet. They're working with an Americorps Vista supervisor, Meg Workman, who provides a lot of administrative assistance and guidance.

They are in the planning and fundraising stage of their existence, and it was Meg who brought up the idea of an art auction. The Emerging Artists Artwork Auction will exhibit the work at the Ink People's Brenda Tuxford Gallery from April 7 until they auction it all off on April 14 (doors open at 6 p.m. Auction starts at 7).

It's always exciting to see a group of young men and women putting together an art show and working hard to realize a dream. The dedication this group has shown in accomplishing their stated goals is also impressive. It's an interesting aside that they are using technology that allows them to organize in a way that has not hitherto been possible for any age group. Teens are especially hip to the use of cell phones, text messages, e-mail, on-line chats and the Internet, which all allow them to have conversations when they are not necessarily in the same room, or even in the same city.

The call went out to all artists aged 14 to 20, open to a variety of media. The group is also turning about a dozen old chairs into funky art chairs to be auctioned off as well. What most the work will look like is a mystery, because the bulk of the entries will be trickling in at the last minute. Some of the first to come in was the work of Malina Syvoravong, a 19-year-old College of the Redwoods student. Her minimalist ink drawings of female faces are very intriguing. She cites Asian artists Audrey Kawasaki and Aya Takano as influences, as well as her teacher at CR, Lien Truong, whom you've read about in this space in the past.

One has to wonder about the instant connection these teens made between the need for a safe place and art. What made them think of art? Eva Hamer, one of the early participants of The Coffee Opp, says, "I'd swear by the importance of the arts for teens. I figure it's the common ground for all different kinds of people. I mean, who doesn't like art and music?"

That kind of gets to the heart of it - common ground, something that everybody understands and participates in to some extent. The human dialogue. People through the ages have been telling their stories through song, dance, visual expression; and the under 20 crowd has as much to say, if not more, than anybody else. "Teenagers - no, everyone - needs the arts. It's part of what makes us `human,'" says Clark.

All of the arts, not just visual, are a part of their dream. They have musicians and poets in the group as well, and writers like Clark, who waxed eloquent: "I love words and painting with them the way another might create shapes on a canvas. Any form of healthy expression is better than none, or violent, abusive expression. I'd rather have a place to go to share prose on how lost I feel at 17, rather than feel the urge to drink it away, to become numb." This could be anyone talking, really. These issues are not unique to teenagers. They just have a harder time finding a welcoming place to share their troubles and get some direction.

These are all good reasons to come out and support this group, if not the simple love of seeing the work of artists budding with creativity. While it's important for them to work for these solutions themselves, there is lot that adults can do to help. Says Clark, "Everyone in this community has something to offer us, just like we hope to offer something to them. Donations, of all sorts, time, money, resources, airtime, are so, so helpful." If you want to find out more about them stop by their MySpace page or e-mail them at

In other news, Bob Benson is retiring after 34 years of teaching art at the College of the Redwoods. As his way of saying goodbye, he's exhibiting a body of new work - 26 new pieces - at the CR Gallery. Known for his expressive watercolors, these works are mixed-media "works in progress" on wood and paper, showing a new direction for Benson. "None of these pieces were produced from observation," he notes. He's excited about the new course his work is taking, saying, "It is the ability to trust and not interfere with the intuitive that allows creativity of the highest order to be realized."

Unfortunately, word of this show went out late - the work is only up through Monday, April 9. Gallery hours are 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. Monday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday or Fridays by appointment. Call 476-4558.


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