Van Go’s young artists unveil their colorful benches

photo by: Jackson Barton

From left, Cider Gallery owner Codi Bates and artist Katie Grear work together to unveil Grear's bench for the Cider Gallery on Friday, July 19, 2019.

After two months of work, young artists at Van Go unveiled 20 vibrant handmade benches to their clients and the community on Friday.

The unveiling event was the culmination of the arts-based social service agency’s annual Benchmark program, and Van Go program director Kristen Malloy said it was also an opportunity to celebrate how much the apprentice artists had grown while working on their pieces.

photo by: Jackson Barton

Clients and community members applaud after unveiling Max Fuentes Sebanc’s bench for Raintree Montessori School on Friday, July 19, 2019, at Van Go.

“This was a group that really bonded and grew to support one another through eight weeks and helped each other get to the finish line,” Malloy said.

In the program, at-risk teens work directly with clients to create uniquely decorated benches. It’s a full-fledged part-time job, and the artists have to complete each step of the bench-making process on schedule.

photo by: Jackson Barton

Dentists Nealy Newkirk, center left, and Brad Adams, center right, from Free State Dental admire their bench from Van Go on Friday, July 19, 2019. The bench was created by young artist Xarien Edwards.

“We’ve watched each artist as they’ve been very, very carefully developing the concept for their client … sanding, priming, creating a beautiful shape for the bench,” Van Go executive director Carol Kobza said. “They’ve all gotten closer to their own hearts as they’ve expressed their creativity.”

Minutes before unveiling a bench she designed, built and painted herself over the eight weeks, artist Angelina Aguilar became emotional while giving a speech about her transformative experience. Aguilar said she suffers from depression and anxiety and often struggled to go to school or leave the house before being hired by Van Go in 2017. After she learned she got the job, she described feeling “pure joy” for the first time she could remember.

photo by: Jackson Barton

Rose Hermann, grandmother of Van Go artist Katie Grear, views Van Go artist Angelina Aguilar’s bench Friday, July 19, 2019, at Van Go.

“If I’m being honest, I did not think I would graduate high school, but I did,” Aguilar said. “After seven amazing sessions at Van Go, I can very well say that they have encouraged and given me confidence and leadership skills.”

This year’s Benchmark was Aguilar’s last. In the fall, she plans to attend Johnson County Community College.

Now in its 21st year, the Benchmark program has produced more than 400 benches, many of which can be seen at businesses around Lawrence.

photo by: Jackson Barton

Benches created by young artists for clients line the Van Go work floor during the annual Benchmark Unveiling event Saturday July 19, 2019, at Van Go.


Welcome to the new Our old commenting system has been replaced with Facebook Comments. There is no longer a separate username and password login step. If you are already signed into Facebook within your browser, you will be able to comment. If you do not have a Facebook account and do not wish to create one, you will not be able to comment on stories.