Imagine an arts sanctuary where students are not only allowed to but encouraged to embrace exactly who they are?
Enter Mapping Q.
Launched in 2014, Mapping Q is a series of workshops for Arizona LGBTQ+ youth ages 13-24. During these workshops, participants learn about LGBTQ+ artists and explore ideas like pride, radical self-care, identity and how to effectively complain (i.e., protest lack of positive representations of queer, diverse ethnicities and disabled bodies in visual culture) through art making.
Chelsea Farrar, curator of community engagement for the University of Arizona Museum of Art (UAMA), launched Mapping Q after being inspired by student’s enthusiasm over a Southern Arizona AIDS Foundation workshop that taught leadership and suicide prevention amongst LGBTQ+ youth.
“As an art teacher I was curious how we could combine art making, museum visits and suicide prevention training,” Farrar said. “I knew that self-harm rates, depression, lack of belonging, etc., were an issue for my students. At same time I was a graduate student who was researching social justice and museum programs- so the idea for Mapping Q grew out of these three experiences and perspectives.”
Since its inception, Mapping Q has had the goals of creating community and increasing a sense of belonging, thereby reducing self-harm and suicide amongst LGBTQ+ youth. Today, Mapping Q is a success among youth. The Fall 2020 program completely sold out.
Students are given the chance to participate in workshops and submit work for display through a virtual exhibition as well as a printed catalog. Past workshop themes include “School of Drag,” “LGBTQ 101,” “The Art of Complaining,” and “Art and Activism Community Conversation” among others.
“Some of the youth’s favorite topics have been around fashion and identity,” Farrar said. “Last year I shared with them an artist in Chicago who designs and crafts clothing/fashion for all bodies (focusing on topics and issues of disability). I think the students got really motivated and inspired.”
Another workshop was inspired by Christine Wong Yap’s Gratitude Letter Project. In this project, the Mapping Q youth drew and created art on blank postcards which they then wrote a letter thanking someone in their lives.
“So many youth expressed how much they loved this project,” Farrar said. “I think the fact it took place at a time we were so physically distanced during the pandemic helped them reconnect with folks in their lives.”
Farrar shared that throughout the years that Mapping Q has been a part of UAMA, she has witnessed many inspiring and full circle moments.
“We have had youth come out of the program not wanting to leave the art museum,” Farrar said. “They enter not feeling that museums are spaces for them but exit Mapping Q not wanting to leave.”
In fact, there have been several students that do not want to leave Mapping Q, become integral members of the youth in the program and eventually end up leaving their own footprint on Mapping Q.
“Two students have become interns and volunteers,” Farrar said. “One student ended up getting a part-time job at the Tucson Museum of Art through his involvement with Mapping Q.”
Farrar shared that research has revealed that Mapping Q is having a profound positive impact on youth that explore the program.
Dr. Russell Toomey, who studies youth resiliency at the Norton School of Family Studies, has been conducting long-term qualitative and quantitative research about the impacts of Mapping Q.
Dr. Toomey’s research found that Mapping Q participants experienced a decrease in anxiety, depression, and thwarted belonging, and experienced an increase in self-esteem, self-awareness, gratitude, and sexual orientation affirmation after participating in a 10-week Mapping Q program.
The study concluded that Mapping Q is proven beneficial in reducing psychological and emotional distress, boosting perceptions of support, and increasing youths’ assets.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mapping Q ramped up its virtual programming. This allowed the program to reach new youth they had never reached before.
“I hope to continue to find ways to include youth from across the state,” Farrar said. “Because we were virtual this past year, we were able to reach so many more students, which was really exciting.”
As Mapping Q continues to expand and reach different parts of the state, the program remains accessible. Mapping Q is completely free, and for most workshops all you need is a sketchbook, something to write with, and your own creative mind. Need something more? Art kits are provided at no cost for Tucson pick-up.
While the Arizona youth eagerly await the return of Mapping Q in the fall of 2021, the program is excited to give them a taste of what they have been missing this summer.
“Devan Marin, a graduate student in Art and Visual Culture Education, has designed a special mini-series of workshops for Mapping Q this summer,” Farrar said. “The workshops will focus on fashion and identity.”
Mapping Q is the place to be to celebrate and learn about LGTBQ+ identities, art making, self-care, representation in museums, and experiences through art. The summer workshop on fashion and identity begins July 21 and runs through Aug. 11 with sessions every Wednesday from 4 to 6 p.m.
To learn more about Mapping Q and to get involved, follow their Instagram at @mappingq.uama and visit their website.