I have run art programs in the community for a long time. Like many artists working in the community sector, I have seen the most uplifting and amazing transformations as people immerse themselves in creative practice and discover a passion for artmaking.
Years ago I was a program manager with Arts Access, a terrific organisation who was at the forefront of making the arts accessible to all. I managed a range of projects, but mostly my attention was with mental health. So many times I had participants tell me that “art saved my life” and I knew it had. The connection with making art, and making art with other people in a group run by a practicing artist tethered people to life. Art and community gave life meaning and purpose. I have received the same sentiments from others so often that it is not a surprise to me any more – but that is not to say it is not as moving or important to hear.
Artists have always known that art is transformational, life changing, but it was hard to prove, and there was not much research around. Without the proof, funding programs was a challenge. Anyway, that was part of the impetus to do my PhD. Rather than learn how useful art making was, I learned the depth and breadth of its impact, which was far greater than I ever expected. Years have passed since then, and now there is a lot of research to help us understand the connection between the arts and mental well being, especially post trauma – and much of that has been possible because of the dynamic and fast growing field of neuroscience, and of course, more artists are doing a PhD these days.
I continue to run programs for people who suffer from mental illness, often trauma-related, and I continue to research their participation. This is through pre- and post- group interviews and psychological and social assessment, as well as asking participants to reflect on their experiences through the program. The consistent benefits that women discuss are (not in order) :
- They have always wanted to make art, or try working with mosaics, or clay. Many of our participants have been very badly treated by others, and their desires have not been met. Doing something that they have always wanted to do, and setting time aside to do it, can be an assertive thing to do, and a very positive step for people who have low self-confidence.
- Women love being part of a community, and supporting each other in their creative endeavours. They love watching the progress of others, and encouraging them.
- Participants enjoy creating art with others who have been through the same sort of thing. They feel ‘different’ from others in society, and are often frightened of them. Many are very lonely and isolated because although they know they are not the ‘only one’ who has had this experience’ it nonetheless feels like that. They know the others in the group will understand and be compassionate towards them.
- Creating reduces anxiety and depression; they feel calm. This can lead participants to better manage behaviours that aren’t positive or helpful, such as excess drug and alcohol use; spending long periods during the day in bed, responding to OCD impulses.
- Being in the art group sets them up for a good day and week. The art group is very much a highlight of participants week.
- Women are amazed to see what they are capable of – especially when they have had negative feedback from people in the past.
- Feeling capable, and therefore optimistic about tackling other things. Many participants are utterly surprised to see what they have achieved, and therefore what they can achieve.
These are a few comments from participants in a recent group :
If you are interested in being part of an Art for soothing & strengthening group, the next one starts on Friday 12 October. Details are here: ART for soothing and strengthening
artworks shown here were created by women in previous groups, run through SECASA.