Medford, Ore. — A night that could have ended in trouble for two teens evolved into a program that works to prevent suicide.
The non-profit is called LIFE Art, and director Phil Ortega said he never imagined it would grow as big as it is now. One early morning in 2009 Ortega said he heard the sp sp sp of a spray can outside his Medford shop.
“I went outside and I said ‘gentlemen, good morning.’ They were really startled and they didn’t know whether to run or not,” Ortega said.
Instead of chasing them off or calling the cops, Ortega surprised the teens by inviting them in. Through a conversation Ortega learned the two teens were planning to paint a mural on his shop for their cousin and brother who had recently committed suicide.
“So when I asked them, ‘why not put that on canvas and tell a story versus the back of someone’s shop that might not be seen?’ They said they didn’t have the supplies and who would listen?” Ortega said.
So he bought them the supplies and started inviting them over to his home for art classes. That gesture of grace grew into LIFE Art. Their gallery in downtown Medford’s Middleford Alley now holds hundreds of pieces done by dozens of local artists. The focus behind it is suicide prevention, and mentoring teens through tough times.
“Unfortunately there are over 15 suicide attempts every week in Jackson County and they identify as being bully like issues with half of them,” Ortega said.
As the teens create they form important friendships. Ortega said he sees the confidence of every artist build with each piece they complete, something they carry far beyond the gallery’s doors.
“The media we use is art, but we believe the kids are the masterpieces and the art is a by product,” he said.
The gallery at 312 Middleford Alley is open to the public Fridays 3-8 and Saturdays 12-5.