Combining Art and Mental Health with Creative Expressions
By Sara Winick
In this installment of the ArtZine, we're sharing some updates about our Creative Expressions Arts & Wellness Program, which uses the arts to address the rise in mental health issues in our youth due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Creative Expressions applies art forms such as painting, music, and dance as therapies, and teams of teaching artists and mental health professionals deliver free arts programs and services directly to organizations and schools. Now in its second year, Creative Expressions has reached more than 1,800 participants and is in full swing during the busy summer camp season. The program is made possible by funding from Impact 100 Jersey Coast.
Within the cafeteria of Freehold Borough Recreation on a sunny Thursday in July, the Creative Expressions team of teaching artists, mental health professionals, and staff is hard at work leading a visual art program with dozens of young campers who are taking a break from other activities to learn about the mental health benefits of being creative and making art.
The campers fill up long tables covered with art supplies and blank canvases to use their creativity as both an activity and an emotional outlet. Visual art activities offered as part of Creative Expressions include "Inside/Outside Masks," "Pieces of Me" Puzzles, and "This is My Story" books, explains Devan Brash, the program's coordinator. Dance and movement activities are also used in some locations, including with youth at the Atlantic Highlands Arts Council in August. In all, Creative Expressions will serve almost 300 participants at six different sites this summer.
For today's project, the campers partake in an art assignment called "Unzip Your Mind." The activity is introduced by one of the program's facilitators, who explains the concept of using the zipper imagery to "unzip" thoughts, emotions, or anything else they'd like to release from their minds. For this project, each camper receives a blank canvas and a colored zipper of their choice. The camper can decide whether they want their zipper open or closed on the canvas, and once they hot glue the fabric down, they can draw or paint anything they'd like to let go of.
The resulting art varies in almost every way. Where some campers draw abstract lines, shapes, and color blends, others draw oceans, people, animals, and even food. The one thing the pieces all have in common is the emotional connection they share with the artist who created them.
At the end of each session, once the campers are finished with their paintings, they gather to view the "gallery" of artwork and talk about how they felt doing the project. This is integral to the idea of "Unzip Your Mind" and to Creative Expressions as a whole, as the campers not only get to have a creative outlet for their thoughts but are able to discuss their feelings with one another. Jessenia Rivera, a lead mental health professional with the program, explains the benefits of doing these wrap-up sessions: “I like to see what insights the kids gained from engaging in the art activities, and it gives them a chance to utilize their voice. I always like to connect it to something in their world, whether it be music, games, or sports.”
To elaborate more on "Unzip Your Mind" and the Creative Expressions program, we spoke with Robyn Schindler, a member of the Creative Expressions team and the owner of Paint the Stars Art Therapy. Robyn, who provides art therapy to kids, teens, and adults, worked with Monmouth Arts to create the program's curriculum in early 2022.
What’s the goal behind Creative Expressions?
“The goal, really, is to have kids understand that they have all of these coping skills at their disposal that they can use. So not every kid that comes is going to understand that they can go see a therapist, or have somebody that they can talk to, but they can draw, or they can listen to music, or they can do other things at home that’ll really help them relax and unwind and express how they're feeling. So that's, I think, one of the main goals that we try to get across.”
Have you had a favorite project that you’ve done so far [with Creative Expressions]?
“I mean, this one is probably my biased favorite. Unzip Your Mind, I feel like, has the most potential to help kids really unleash and express, at least what they need to. So that's why I like this one the most.”
What’s the best part of working with these kids and Creative Expressions?
“Hearing what they say, and watching their faces light up when they get to use all of the art materials that we bring. I don't think a lot of them get access to a lot of the art materials that we have. So it's kind of cool to watch them express and play with it and then hearing them talk at the end about what they got out of it is just amazing.”
For more information about Creative Expressions, please contact Devan Brash at email@example.com.
Facebook: @Monmouth Arts