Creative Collaboration between an Art Therapist and a Museum of Art: Let Art Inspire

When I began my career as an art therapist, I spent many years collaborating and building relationships and connections in my central Maine community. At that time many people here had not yet heard about of therapy. I dreamed of one day collaborating with local organizations in many different ways. I was thrilled when I was able to begin collaborating with The Colby College Museum of Art. They initially reached out to me several years ago to collaborate for a community creative wellness workshop for local veterans. Following this successful offering, I was hired on staff at the museum of art as a teaching artist for community workshops and school field trips. I was also connected with the wellness center at the college to offer creative wellness workshops to the Colby College students for credit and also for other groups within the student community focused on creativity, spirituality, and self-care.

When Covid hit, we were unsure how to move forward and keep our local community connected to the museum. So many people were feeling extremely stressed, afraid, overwhelmed, disconnected and limited in what they could do to even begin to process and express their experiences. This affected the mental health of so many. My colleague at the museum developed the idea to create a video series offered virtually that would combine different ways for the community to engage virtually with the artwork in the museum. I was excited and also terrified as I had never offered a session or workshop virtually up to this point. This would be a large learning curve for me.

The full program offering was under the larger umbrella name of "Let Art Inspire" and had three components: "Artful Movements", taught by a yoga instructor the first week of the month, "Artful Meditation", taught by a meditation teacher the second week of the month, and my part of the program was called, "Artful Healing" and was offered the third week of the month. This program was the final offering of the month after yoga and meditation, so participants had time to allow the theme and artwork to marinate before they explored the art and monthly theme through their own creative experiencing. We wanted to meet people where they were at the best we could. Before Covid during our in person workshops we could offer luxurious materials, music, and snacks. A benefit to virtual offerings was that it was nice how participants could pause the video and engage in the creative practices at their own pace.

I feel that the "Artful Healing" program allowed space and a way forward; a way to use our creativity to bring a sense of order to the chaos that we were experiencing. In this portion of the program I used my training and skills as an art therapist to guide people in creating space to explore their own creative expression in response to the artwork and/or theme being offered that month. It was important that I was clear in each offering that "Artful Healing" was not therapy, but that I was holding space to teach and model a creative meditative practice that could facilitate increased awareness and presence. I mentioned in each video that if something came up that was in need of deeper healing that it would be helpful to seek the support of a compassionate friend, family member or therapist. I shared the importance of creating a safe space to look within, free from distractions, and encouraged participants to visit this same space if possible each time they engaged in these creative practices if possible to assist people in understanding the importance of developing daily practices to check in with themselves. It was also important that I let participants know that these practices were simply a suggested practice; a structure they could follow, but that they also had permission to modify materials or the creative practice as felt right to them.

Each month the museum would give me an art piece from the museum's collection and a theme. I would meditate on a creative practice that I could model based on this information. Participants would possibly end with a finished product that they were proud of and wanted to continue to work with, but "Artful Healing" was intended to be more about the process and practice of presence than the finished product. Participants were learning how to use art making as an embodied meditation. My goal was to assist people in learning to engage in creative expression where there is no right or wrong, and where they could practice increasing self-compassion and grow awareness of personal judgements.

Each "Artful Healing" offering had the same structure:

An introduction

Reminder that this was not a substitute for therapy but a creative wellness practice

Brief relaxation/visualization/possible journaling practice

Preparation - creating safe quiet space, materials prep/gathering

(suggested materials were kept very basic so that they were easily accessible)

Time for creating

Suggestions for continuing practice/going deeper if desired with journaling

Each video was no more than 30 minutes from start to finish. I chose not to film in person on campus due to Covid, I started by filming on Zoom at my office and over time we decided that we would have better sound and video quality if I had a microphone, better lighting, and a tripod and camera at my office. There was a learning curve for me as far as how to film and also personally how to feel comfortable being seen and heard on camera. I made samples of each step and over time learned that the videos seemed more interesting to watch if I tilted the camera down to the table as I modeled what I was creating.

Some of the creative wellness tools that were taught and modeled during the Artful Healing series were:

Increasing our self-awareness, awareness of our inner world

Growing comfort with our own creative expression and vulnerability/childlike wonder and playfulness

Grounding - connecting more deeply to ourselves, to the Earth - finding our center

Increasing self-acceptance

Awareness of thoughts and feelings and honoring our experiences, emotional regulation

Letting go and releasing

Working consciously with colors

Flow state - trusting self and the flow of life

Connecting to our inner rhythm and expanding to connect to the rhythm of life

Learning how to open to life, grow self-compassion

Celebrating life

This beautiful collaboration allowed us to stay engaged and connected and it was fun and also important for me as a presenter to feel connected. The experience was very humbling and allowed me to be vulnerable in a new way which also helped me connect to the sense of vulnerability that participants may be feeling as a result of the pandemic and also while engaging in a new creative practice. It also allowed me the opportunity to share these videos with my community of clients and my virtual community on social media. I received many messages of thanks from people all over the world who had watched the videos and enjoyed the practices. I realized that by opening this experience to a virtual platform that people who may never had originally been associated with the museum or creative expression in this way were able to participate. Creating and teaching these practices virtually also encouraged me to do this healing work where I may not have otherwise! I believe that all Museums of Art would benefit greatly from having an art therapist on staff that may enhance what the museum is able to offer to it's community.

To learn more about Let Art Inspire at the Colby College Museum of Art click here

To follow the Colby College Museum of Art YouTube channel click here

To follow Bodhi Simpson's YouTube channel click here

Here is a sample video of one of the offerings:

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