Merced art exhibit "Identity" celebrates LGBTQ community, said to be largest of its kind in California

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- A unique exhibit in Merced is putting works of art from the LGBTQ community front and center, and it's thought to be the largest of its kind in the state.

"To my knowledge, it's the largest one of it's kind, largest gathering of trans and non-binary identified artists," said Eli Sachse, who curated the exhibit at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center in downtown.

"Identity" features ten artists, some from Merced and some further north, with all the art focusing on the stories (and some struggles) of the LGBTQ community.

"Most of the exhibit is focused on beauty, the representation of beauty... When you see people that look like you, it's powerful in so many ways," Sachse said. When not curating art, you may find Sachse leading the Merced Gender Nonconforming Support Group. It's a place for people to share and talk, and it also brings struggles to light.

"I hear about bullying in schools quite often," Sachse said. Some of the members of the group are teens. "You can't hear that and not do anything about it."

Sachse believes the art exhibit is a way to make anyone feel welcome, and to begin to change notions and stigmas about the LGBTQ community. "When they see folks that look like them... it improves mental health outcomes across ages, it's really important."

"I want them to understand the LGBTQ community and people transitioning have their story to tell," said Colton Dennis, executive director of the Merced County Arts Council. "The LGBTQ community are the same as everyone else, they have their own story, they have their own narrative."

"They're coming from a place of shame and stigma to now having their own sense of pride, to the point they can show it to the public," said Adam Lane with the Merced LGBTQ Alliance.

"It's amazing, I never thought I would see something like this," said Trish Osterhout, who attends Sachse's support group. "Knowing there are people out there in the same situation, it helps a lot."

Sachse says the perception that Merced isn't inclusive is outdated and believes the city has come a long way in how it treats members of the LGBTQ community, but also says that other parts of the Central Valley still have room to improve. Sachse hopes the exhibit will continue the trend of acceptance in Merced and around the Valley.

"I'm just really proud of it and really happy about it."

The exhibit is on display at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center until July 27. The LGBTQ Alliance will be hosting Downtown Merced Pride beginning on July 5. For more information, click here.
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