Helping People Flourish through Art

I stepped into the clinic with butterflies in my stomach. I had no idea what to expect. I had never worked with students that have special needs. Sabra, the music therapy clinic director, did her best to prepare me and we worked out some modifications to my collage and painting techniques to accommodate students, but I still felt completely out of my league. Could I do this? What would happen? Was this going to work?

I had the exact same feelings of inadequacy and fear when I stepped into a middle school to teach an 8th grade group of gifted and talented kids. Same questions, same worries.

So, what actually happened? What was the result?

Flourishing and wholeness.

I was trying to figure out how to talk about these experiences and I ran across a passage in a book called “Create vs. Copy” by Ken Wytsma that captures what I experienced and why.

”Creativity makes space for life to flourish.”

I’m going to talk about creativity from an artistic perspective, but creativity is simply problem solving and it is something that we all innately possess whether you are an artist or not. We were created to create and I believe that is why practicing creativity is so good at helping us feel alive and helping us flourish in our current environments.

Here’s some examples from my recent collaborative experiences with ITNC Music Therapy students and Bill Reed Middle School 8th graders.

During the first session with our ITNC students, everyone was pretty nervous and didn’t know what to expect. Students talked little but did their best to perform the tasks I described. I did all I could to get them excited and into the project. I explained that our job today was to have fun and to not be afraid to try something new. We cut out collage materials, selected different pieces that related to each student and then worked on designing the canvases. I learned how to interact with each student as the hour passed. It took way longer than it was supposed to…, but none of the students wanted to leave. Sabra told me that she had never seen the level of focus from one of her clients like she observed during our workshop. As we progressed through our series of three workshops, the students were pushed to try new things each week, but they kept meeting the challenges. By the last week, the students were flourishing and feeling so alive that they took singing and dancing breaks. The same thing happened with my second group of students…at first they were nervous (just like me) and by the end of the sessions, we were joking, hugging, dancing and giggling.

You know what that looks like to me? Flourishing. Creativity gave these amazing students space to flourish and thrive. They experience challenge and frustration on a consistent basis. They are often seen as “less” or “lacking,” but that is not the message they received while creating for this project. They were celebrated and honored for all the things they achieved and all that they were as people. Seeing others flourish through creative projects that I helped create brought me a huge sense of joy and helped me to flourish as well.

To learn more about the Uniquely Us project that was funded by a grant from CCI, you can click here.

Ok, so what about the 8th graders? Well, that was a completely different scenario! In this group, I had to work hard to keep them engaged because art came very easily to them. This was their area of expertise as opposed to my music therapy students who needed the process simplified and highly structured to help them succeed. Most of the students were just glad to be out of class for the day. They kept their heads down and didn’t interact with me very much at the beginning of the day. They were polite, but distant. They knew the rules. They knew that if they wanted to stay in the workshop, they needed to “toe the line”, but by the end of the day, the room was full of chatter, it was a complete disaster from the flurry of creation and students began to fill up the space with their unique personalities rather than feeling like they had to hide or shrink. One student in particular has struggled to be engaged with core classes and is typically a challenge for teachers since he arrived at Bill Reed. By the collaborative designing time, I had this student working directly with me to place elements on the canvas and I would ask for suggestions and he was happy to share. He also came to me about his work and was asking for feedback on how he could make it stronger. He doesn’t do this in other classes. EVER. Creativity gave him space to be himself and flourish.

Both of these groups came alive in their own ways and it was magical to see. It made my heart want to burst. What this showed me was that we need more opportunities for creativity so that flourishing can occur in clinics, schools, churches, businesses, community centers, and homes. When we make room for these kinds of projects and activities, we build up groups of people that are no longer just surviving (which often leads to unhealthy behavior), but thriving and being who they were made to be…creators.

If you want to help me find new places to bring creative collaborations to, please get in touch, or if you want to help fund more projects like the ones described, please reach out.

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