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Area Youth Are Full of ImagineNation at Express Yourself Inc.

Express Yourself, in partnership with the Department of Mental Health, will be hosting their annual event and extravaganza Imagine Nation this May. The event will be streamed virtually on May 20th at 7:30pm via their website at exyo.org

“We are thrilled and grateful for the generosity of North Shore Music Theater’s Bill Hanney and Karen Nascembeni for assisting us in hosting this special invitation only Outdoor Virtual Theater event for Exyo youth and their families” 

ImagineNation 2021 will feature works created by community youth in partnership with guest artists. The performance will include an uplifting music video with Ricky Duran (The Voice, Season 17), a colorful dance piece with Carlos Thomas and Cammie Griffin of STOMP, visual storytelling with filmmaker Matt Mixon, hybrid animal art sculptures with visual artist Wes Bruce, and youth art presentations. 

Youth move rolling sculptures at the Cummings Center staging their virtual performance.  

Imagine Nation 2021

Beverly-based Express Yourself has been producing large annual performances at the Boch Center – Wang Theatre in Boston for 26 years, These dynamic performances have incorporated visual art, music, dance, theater, often led and choreographed by special guests to support youth from the Department of Mental Health, as well as participating youth within the community. 

Ricky Duran (The Voice S17) singing with Autumn at Boch Center Ghost Light rehearsal. Image by Mike Dean.

“This will have been our 27th year performing at the Boch Center, and this connection is really important to us,” said Paula Conrad (she/her/hers) co-executive director of Express Yourself. 

While last year’s event, and the production of that event, had to happen almost exclusively virtually in accordance with the state’s COVID-19 restrictions, this year allowed for slightly more flexibility. For example, using the existing resources provided by the Ghost Light Series at the Boch Center, Express Yourself Inc. and musician Ricky Duran were able to stage a small on-stage performance with a select group of  youth which will be presented during the event. 

in addition to their annual ImagineNation programming and regular arts programming, Erin Johnston and the Express Yourself staff were able to also deliver 3500 art boxes to go to area youth, allowing them to have access to the supplies and resources they needed even during stay-at-home orders.

“We’re an organization that works with youth with mental illness, and there’s a lot of anxiety and depression. By providing a fun, creative connection for the kids, it gave both them and [the staff] a creative direction, a theme, and a purpose to work toward when we were isolated in our homes,” said Conrad. 

With Massachusetts starting to open again as vaccines become more widely available, Conrad is hopeful about what that means for the youth Express Yourself works with, but she’s also aware of the challenges.

“One of our big concerns at the moment is how do we transition kids back from being isolated to being in a collaborative setting, and we’re going to be doing this very carefully,” she explained, mentioning that hybrid programming like with ImagineNation is one of the keys to this future. 

“The goal will be a transitional project that will allow them to come together in their own time in smaller groups in a safe, gentle, and supportive way,” she added. 

Wes Bruce, visiting artist, created Hybrid Animals with North Shore Recovery Youth

To learn more about Express Yourself Inc. or live stream ImagineNation on May 20th at 7:30pm, head to www.exyo.org. You can also follow them on Facebook and Instagram


Joey Phoenix (they/them) is the Director of Brand Strategy and Innovation at Creative Collective. As the resident storyteller and town crier, they encourage you to send story ideas, inspiration, or pictures of adorable critters to joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com.


May is all about May-kers! Follow us on social @creativecollectivema and @creativenorthshore to see member features. If you’re interested in being featured yourself, send Joey Phoenix a note at @joeyphoenix@creativecollectivema.com 

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