Introducing Justin Shartzer

Justin Shartzer (right) with Gail Smith as Belle and Prince Adam
Justin Shartzer (right) with Gail Smith as Belle and Prince Adam
By Natalie Wicke, guest writer

Justin Shartzer has been Via Colori Kentucky’s Imagination Station Director since 2016.

“Via Colori,” Justin says, “is a celebration of art and creativity in which hundreds of artists, community organizers, vendors, and partners come together to encourage the community at large to value and appreciate the arts.” Approximately 100 different artists participate each year with the intent of creating a largescale work of art directly on the sidewalks of Waterfront Park. The festival features: live music, vendors, a food court, and many family-friendly activities (such as street painting, superhero photo ops, street performers, kart racing, a costume contest, an art gallery dedicated to child-created pieces and—of course—street art!)

But there’s another reason why Via Colori should be on your radar: the mission behind the festival is to raise awareness of the needs of foster children in the Louisville community. This year, a portion of the festival’s proceeds will be used to create “First Night in Placement” care baskets. These will include things such as nightlights, books, toothbrushes, soothing bath bombs and soaps, blankets, and age-appropriate things for both the children and parents.

“Another goal this year,” Justin says, “is to support the creation of a specialized Trauma-Informed Caregiving Team as a resource to any foster parent in the state.” The creation of such a team is “vital,” Justin stresses, “because foster parents often do not have the resources or support systems [in place] to understand the trauma a foster child has experienced.” The highly-trained team of caregivers will be utilized as babysitters to promote the well-being of foster children, ensuring that they are cared for appropriately.

This is now Justin’s 3rd year with Via Colori. While it was his interest in cosplaying that initially drew him to the festival, his involvement has deepened as he’s taken the mission of the festival to heart. “My first experience with Via came through a mutual friend of the event coordinator,” Justin says. “The coordinator was looking for cosplayers to attend the event so the kids could meet their favorite characters in person. Through my involvement with the Ohio River Valley Cosplayers (ORCs), I was able to network with other cosplayers and performers to join the festival. I had such a great time working with the event that I decided to keep helping out.”

For 2018, he has taken on the role of organizing the area called the Imagination Station—think go-karts, cosplay, and dress-up. “The biggest joy I get out of participating in Via—other than getting to see the excitement on kid’s faces when I meet them as the Beast from Beauty & the Beast—is knowing that my participation in the event is directly helping foster children.”

Last year, advocacy efforts at the event led to the opening of new foster homes which could affect the lives of hundreds of foster children. With 9,654 youths in the Kentucky Foster Care system as of this month, the need for loving foster parents is greater than ever. Come show your support this October — it’s guaranteed to be a fun experience for the entire family!