Art builds confidence at local nonprofit

When Lily Robinson started work as an apprentice artist at Van Go Inc. in January 2013, she had never taken an art class. She had just been diagnosed with severe major depressive disorder; she felt angry and numb. 

But as the months passed and she mastered more techniques, she gained assurance and skill — a cornerstone of the Lawrence arts-based social service agency serving high-needs teens and youth, 70 percent of whom live in poverty. 

At a steel-and-glass space near downtown, amid a swirl of vibrant colors on murals and fabric, Robinson and her fellow apprentices produce high-quality artwork for a paycheck, building self-confidence through self-expression. Their murals, paintings, sculptures, glass pieces, and custom-painted benches appear all over the city.

For more than a decade, the University of Kansas has supported Van Go’s mission to change lives for the better. Students from social welfare, communications, architecture, art, and design have all participated, largely through internships. The striking workshop space was a collaborative 2003 project with the School of Architecture, Design & Planning. 

“We did artwork with the teens, helped them produce their work,” says Lauren Reid, a metalsmithing major who completed a Van Go internship in 2013. “It’s an extremely rewarding experience — these are good people.”

“I just cannot overestimate what KU has done for Van Go. It’s been a perfect partnership in so many ways. Our student interns are part of the Van Go family.”
— Lynne Green, founder and executive director of Van Go

Reid says she appreciated the environment at Van Go and the experience of working with teens. Through training, she learned how to discuss with them difficult subjects like pregnancy and drug and alcohol abuse, and, as an art major, she learned how to collaborate with a social worker when necessary. 

“Everyone works together,” Lynne Green, founder and executive director of Van Go, agrees. “I just cannot overestimate what KU has done for Van Go. It’s been a perfect partnership in so many ways. Our student interns are part of the Van Go family.”

The connection between KU and Van Go runs deep. Over the last eight years, students enrolled in Art 500 have spent nearly 2,000 hours at Van Go, and several have joined the staff after graduation. Green herself has a bachelor’s from the School of Social Welfare. 

“Van Go’s work is so important,” says Mary Anne Jordan, a visual art professor who coordinates Art 500. “We’re happy to give our students these experiences, and engaged learning can benefit our community in so many ways.


One of 34 U.S. public institutions in the prestigious Association of American Universities
26 prestigious Rhodes Scholars — more than all other Kansas colleges combined
Nearly $290 million in financial aid annually
46 nationally ranked graduate programs.
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