An artist and youth outreach worker in Thunder Bay, Ont. has won an award from a provincial arts organization.

Lora Northway has been named one of this year's Emerging Cultural Leaders by the Artist-Run Centres & Collectives of Ontario (ARCCO). The first-time award celebrates people who are "exceptional, emerging, creative champions."

The award came as a surprise, said Northway.

"I was really pumped," she said. "I think it's really nice to be seen and heard for your hard work." 

Northway has worked at the artist-run Definitely Superior Art Gallery in Thunder Bay for seven years. In her role as the youth outreach coordinator, she said she tries to find new and fresh ways to engage young artists. 

"Having a focus on youth is really important because they are the ones that are making a change and they're the ones that are the future leaders for these artist-run centres," she said. 

As a highschool student in Thunder Bay, Northway said she had trouble finding arts programs that spoke to her. After graduating from university with an arts degree, she was determined to fill the gap by developing accessible programs for young artists. 

She founded Definitely Superior's Die Active youth art collective, which is known for painting colourful graffiti art murals throughout the city. 

She also helped start Neechee Studio, which runs workshops for Aboriginal youth; and inVisible Ink, an art and writing program for LGBT youth. 

"She's given so much to the community, especially to youth," said Elizabeth Buset, who nominated Northway for the award. "Lora's approach is really authentic ... she really wants youth to feel ownership over the work that they're producing."

Northway will receive her award at a ceremony in Toronto on Saturday.

hi-urban-art-852-8col

Members of the Die Active youth art group, founded by Lora Northway, painted the outside of this Mac's convenience store on Simpson Street in Thunder Bay, Ont. in 2013. (Josh Lynn/CBC)