'Love Yourself' event to raise awareness about suicide prevention

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PITTSFIELD — It's not easy to open up about your feelings of anxiety, struggle or thoughts about suicide. Nor is it often publicized how people are able to overcome these experiences.

But on Sunday, the Colonial Theatre will swing open its doors from 2 to 5 p.m. for a free community celebration of youth survivors, their allies and the power of creative expression, aptly titled "Love Yourself," to mark the start of Valentine's Day week. Works for sale by local young artists will remain on view in the theater lobby through March 18.

"This is about sharing our personal stories and what we've learned in our hope and strength," said Marney Schorr, director of Arts in Recovery for Youth.

The program, better known as AIRY, regularly stages youth art exhibitions in local galleries. But Sunday's special presentation will showcase youth artists, dancers, singers, musicians, poets and filmmakers from across Berkshire County in one venue.

There will be art sales; dance, presented through Berkshire Pulse's Young Choreographers Workshop; an a cappella performance by Berkshire Theatre Group's BTG Plays singers; an acoustic solo performance by Grace Ida Marks; poetry and art presentations by AIRY members; and community talks led by Schorr, state Sen. Adam Hinds, Lee Watroba, president of the Berkshire Coalition for Suicide Prevention, and Peggy Morse, a coalition board member and suicide loss resource coordinator.

Proceeds from art sales at the event will benefit AIRY and the youths of BTG Plays.

Sunday also will be a big day for Raymond Brown, a 26-year-old city resident and up-and-coming filmmaker. During the event, he will debut his first cut of a documentary about AIRY, its members and their work, filmed at various downtown locations. It's also the very project that has helped save his life.

He said that one of the things he observed while making the film is the gender imbalance among AIRY participants — most are female. During a recent AIRY session, Brown was the only male at the art studio table.

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"The issue of male suicidality hits home for me," said Brown, who has survived his own attempts.

He said he was hesitant to do therapy or join AIRY because "guys just don't talk about these things."

But giving the group and the film project a try has "helped me put on a braver face," said the filmmaker, who has expanded from his work producing music videos through his Brown Out Pictures channel.

"It's my story, even if I'm not talking about it," he said of the documentary. "It's all of our story."

Another significant story through this collaborative event is a partnership between the members of AIRY and Berkshire Pulse's Young Choreographers Initiative. AIRY's Schorr met with Berkshire Pulse directors Bettina Montano and Susan Quinn in December to create a pilot partnership between the groups. The result will be Sunday's debut trio and quintet dance performances inspired by AIRY paintings "Chaos and Calm" by artists Amity and Sophia and "Untitled" by Schuyler and Shirley.

Building these social connections and community collaborations are crucial to the county's efforts to save lives from being lost to suicide. This event is being billed as an "LGBTQ+ friendly event," as people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer tend to be more prone to social isolation, discrimination and thoughts of suicide.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research indicates that LGBTQ+ youths are nearly five times as likely to have attempted suicide compared with heterosexual youth.

"There needs to be a lot more awareness about suicidal ideation and mental health, especially in Berkshire County," said Breanna Lytle, a founding AIRY member and an intern for the program. "There are a lot of problems that youth and young adults here are having now."

Jenn Smith can be reached at jsmith@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6239.


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