100 Colorado Creatives: Dylan Scholinski

Colorado Creatives #94: Dylan Scholinski

Dylan Scholinski has not lived an easy life. Born a girl named Daphne and sent at fifteen to a mental hospital with the diagnosis 'inappropriate female,' Scholinski spent the majority of his high school years training extensively in what his doctors considered proper femininity. "I basically got a four-year degree in living in a psych ward," he says, "but I think that's one of the reasons the youth I work with have success with me, rather than with others; I'm not a therapist, I'm a witness. I'm not going to tell them that they're sick. I don't have an agenda, other than for them to find themselves and then celebrate themselves for what they are."
Today, twenty-six years after his discharge, Scholinski runs Sent(a)Mental Studios, a program devoted to offering depressed and suicidal teenagers the time, the space and the resources necessary to the production of something Scholinski believes is profoundly healing: raw, honest, unabashed art.

Though he has opened his workspace to youth since the early '90s, Scholinski formally started Sent(a)Mental Studios in 2007 after a friend's suicide. His intent was to quietly facilitate an alternative to self-destruction, to establish an environment conducive to personal exploration, expression and, ultimately, acceptance. The key to these things, according to Scholinski, is genuinity, no matter how uncomfortable. "I was very annoyed in my life being told to paint happy pictures when that really isn't who I was," he notes. "They were always asking me to be someone else, and I really think everyone needs to be allowed to express full spectrum of emotions."

That means the art generated by the kids who participate in Studio projects is not always especially pleasant or hopeful. The "Lead With Your Heart" collection, for instance, is more a portrait of human struggle and desperation and sincerity than an image of the flawed but eventual bliss we typically associate with love. "Some people decorate [their pieces]," Scholinski says. "Some people tear them up. Some people step on them. It's wherever a person's at. It's supposed to be a record of that moment. We all feel joy, pain, fear, regardless of class, race, sexuality. The heart is something we all have in common."

This fearless embrace -- and acceptance -- of the emotional gamut in its overwhelming entirety is what makes Sent(a)Mental Studios remarkable. Its aim is expression, and real expression, as Scholinski sees it, is individual and passionate and sometimes harsh but, before all else, it is unapologetic truth. "That's where I found my strength," he says, "in my work, in my ability to really feel and expose myself. I think the goal of all this is really creating a more compassionate and feeling world."

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