It wouldn’t be quite right to say that Youth Interactive is brand-new to the scene — founder Nathalie Gensac began studying the feasibility of her Funk Zone–based nonprofit in 2009— but Saturday is without a doubt its debutante ball. At 2 p.m. on August 24, area youth participating in a summer mural project will unveil their masterpiece, an ode to Santa Barbara’s headless namesake. Yes, that would be Saint Barbara herself.
The ensuing party will include a wine and tequila bar, deejays spinning beats, a visit by Mayor Helene Schneider, and a screening by the Good News Club, another Youth Interactive program comprising teens who report positive stories multimedia-style with the mentorship of the man behind Cage Free Productions, Paul Lynch.
Youth Interactive has been operational since last November, but this fall it will go forward with a full slate of programming. Gensac — the France-born, England-educated, former television-producing, globetrotting do-gooder who made it all happen — has put similar organizations on the ground in India, Papua New Guinea, South Africa, and Montana. Santa Barbara, she says, is her last stop.
Originally planning on New York City as the flagship location of her U.S. presence, Gensac met funders who split their time between Manhattan and Montecito. They convinced her that she might like the American Riviera as much as the original. Gensac’s only point of reference was the soap opera, and she saw little use in starting an organization for at-risk kids in such a posh location. What she found, however, is that Santa Barbara had a lot in common with some of the third-world locales she had previously worked in — including stark wealth disparity and a healthy tourist trade.
The latter is important because the concept behind Youth Interactive is an entrepreneurial endeavor. Not only do kids learn about art and media, but they also sell the products of their creation. Located smack dab in the midst of the Funk Zone next to Oreana’s tasting room on Anacapa Street, Youth Interactive is in a prime spot to off-load painted wine glasses and other curios to euphoric vacationers.
Gensac also chose the location because it is in gang-neutral territory, and she is targeting at-risk kids with her tuition-free classes. Last Thursday, some young’ns were rushing to put the final touches on the mural. They included Toby Trout, a 20-year-old street artist who said, “Even if there wasn’t a thing called graffiti, spray paint would be a medium a lot of artists would use.” Then there was Daniel Avalos, a 12-year-old who rides his bike to Youth Interactive from the Eastside every day and, according to mentor Colette Cosentino, “can copy anything.”
Cosentino is a decorative artist who was suggested for the mural project by someone named Brooke, she said. She has no idea who Brooke is, but she would like to thank her because she’s really enjoyed working with the kids. Another working artist, Martin Diaz, is also guiding the budding muralists working. “If I didn’t have this,” Trout asked rhetorically, “where would I be painting?”