Everyone wants to be heard. We want others to be interested enough in us to get some idea of what makes us tick, to get to know what we feel, what we do, think, enjoy, worry about; what interests us? and so much more.

Friendships and relationships usually build up over time and gradually we share a little, then a little more. It is an exchange that develops with trust as well as time. However, there are times when it is necessary for professionals to get to know their clients quite fast in order to attend to their needs. They need to build a trusting rapport as well as elicit information.

It can be daunting to be on the other side of those questions; and often very hard to answer when you are in a state of  turmoil and confronting some of the most difficult times of your life. This is a situation that social workers regularly face – how to build rapport with clients? How to engage them as well as draw out a broad picture of the client, a specific understanding of their needs – their story?  Many students noted how difficult it can be for them to build a rapport with clients.

Another question asked is how can they draw upon their imaginations to work effectively with people and communities?


These are some of the themes of our one-day workshop with 2nd Year Bachelor of Social Work students at MS University Baroda, India.  Art and social work is a new concept at MS University and this is the first time most students and teachers have experienced combining the two.   The purpose of these workshops is for students to experience and discover what art and art making can offer to themselves as young social workers, and in their work in the field.  It was a taster for them; and for some a rediscovery of the lost love of drawing and painting.   


One area where arts practice can be really useful is in inviting people to tell their story.  In this training day students were invited to tell a part of their story.   But first we looked at some artworks for inspiration!

dsc_0007I have two favourite pieces to share with students. The first is a beautiful scroll I bought some years ago in Shantiniketan.   It was created by the Patuas, an artisan community found in the state of West Bengal in India. Patuas, started out in the village tradition as painters of scrolls or pats telling the popular mangal stories of the gods and goddesses. For generations, these scroll painters or Patuas have gone from village to village with their scrolls or pat singing stories in return for money or food. (

The second work I share is a traditional art form from Nepal.   It is a painting, with many small scenes of aspects of village life.   I have one that shows all about making and firing pottery and another about daily life in the village.

Both are naïve in style, and draw heavily on colour and pattern to make them lively and engaging.   I love to use them because this style is inviting and simple – most people will look at them and not be overwhelmed by the techniques.

 The 2nd years were invited to draw upon these ideas, and then depict five scenes from their own life. We then put them together in a format similar to the scroll – complete with decorative borders. We learn a lot from what was created and the drawings gave us a jumping off point to ask some curious questions.

those of you who are familiar with India will recognise many daily activities, as well as community festivals in these small works. 

At the end of the session, students were invited to write down a few pointers of what they learnt and how this learning might be applied in their work situation.  Most said that they learned about building rapport. Here are a few of the thoughtful responses about some of the things they learnt :

I learned so many skills : critical thinking, group work, imagination, creative thinking in how these skills can be applied in my field work and in my future …

I developed my creative skills and engaged myself in such activities after a long time.   It was a pleasure time with my friends spending time in this session which depicted “learning with fun”.

I learned : working in a group, how to develop my creativity in drawing; how to tell a story by drawing; to develop my critical thinking.   I learnt many creative things from my friends, and also learnt by using my creative initiative.     I very much enjoyed this day …

I learnt to portray my feelings in a creative manner.  I can use this activity in my agency with children who are really shy and who do not open up easily.  It helped me admire my life – and I got to know how lucky I am : to be able to get up in the morning, have one more day to enjoy my life and do something productive.   This activity also showed me how to use my observational powers …

I was able to enhance not only my creative skills but also to develop group work skills whilst constantly being in communication with my (art group) partner.  I understood that painting helps on to anticipate … and to express one’s ideas.

dsc_0764students enjoying the days’ efforts.

This project is part of Artists in Community International MakeDoTell 2017, kindly made possible through the generous donations those who see the benefits of art and drama for learning, health, discovery, pleasure and wellbeing.


  1. Art and social work.

    Dear anne .

    Time to revisit this and aim for a nice article.

    Collaborative mentions from charles sturt university working with bhutaneze refugees first art exposure doing art in western world with clients that too eastern and then taking it further through to two sxhools of social work nepal and communities and Baroda.

    This makes a great article. I will source new material and will also add an interview with bhavna.

    Please start working towards an abstract draft.

    No pressure. But a month of reflection. We have our previous work only to quote but none of those references within. Begin with abstract. And send it to me for a review.

    We will aim at social change or something

    Dr Venkat Pulla Australian Catholic University Brisbane

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