Afterschool program in Ward 7 proves positive connection between art therapy and economic, social success

Art therapy in Heisa Island Aswan

Art therapy in Heisa Island Aswan (Photo credit: rouelshimi)

By Nicole Lafond


An afterschool arts program in a struggling D.C. neighborhood recently helped African American boys and young men develop goals for their future, as a part of the program’s adolescent art project.

As a component of an art education series, NPR published a piece this week about the afterschool program, Life Pieces to Masterpieces, an art program for boys and young men in the Ward 7 neighborhood.

This program strives to give boys and young men living in the area a safe place to go after school to express themselves and form positive, mentored relationships, NPR reported. Life Pieces to Masterpieces teaches boys and young men in the program values through “The four C’s,” which are Connect, Create, Contribute and Celebrate. Program participants are called apprentices.

The program was strategically established in a struggling neighborhood in D.C., Ward 7.

According to the organization “Ward 7 for Life,” a group that strives to combat the rise of HIV/AIDS infections in the area, Ward 7 has the highest rates of teen pregnancy, unemployment, rates of recidivism, persons living below the poverty level and single women as heads of households in D.C.

A co-founder of Life Pieces, Mary Brown, told NPR the program specifically focuses on younger males in this neighborhood because of the struggling reputation the neighborhood holds and the statistical nature of male reactions to emotions and tragic life experiences.

“The little boys and young men [have] been exposed to all types of horrific things. And being the natural little boys and young men that they are, they swallow it all.”

In a recent art project, the young apprentices artistically developed and expressed their goals for the future. Most of the boys dreamed of becoming pro athletes, NPR reported.

Through these different types of activities, the mentors hope the apprentices in the program not only develop aspirations, but also learn that it is OK to share these feelings with one another, mentor Maurice Kie told NPR. This type of atmosphere is an “urgent need” in D.C., according to the organization’s website.

“A home away from home … That’s what Life Pieces to Masterpieces provides to the hundreds of African American young men and boys growing up in Washington, D.C.’s most poverty-stricken and volatile neighborhoods. And, in a city with the highest rate of poverty in the United States, there is an urgent need for this loving, safe environment for expressing fear, anger, hope and joy.”

All of the mentors and apprentices in the program are males, which helps the younger boys develop a male-figure relationship that many in Ward 7, statistically, are lacking.

Brown considers the program to have been a continued success since its founding in 1996. 1,000 young men have gone through the program and just shy of 100 percent of them graduated high school and went on to higher education.

According to Brown, the statistics of the program speak loudly for the important role art plays in cognitive and social development. “The paintings are not the masterpieces, our boys lives are the masterpieces,” Brown told NPR.

Because of the success of programs such as Life Piece to Masterpiece, I am convinced that art therapy programs are the best methods of igniting positive social and cognitive development and rehabilitation in children and adults, mainly because participants do not necessarily recognize that they are going through therapy.

A study published in World of Psychology last year studied the role of art therapy in occupational and social development. Those surveyed were given the choice between different types of “therapeutic” activities. Art therapy was the most popular out of the 16 choices.

However, after completing the “art therapy,” the majority of study participants indicated that they found the activities to be unhelpful and unbeneficial to their personal occupational and social development.

The author of the study argued that because the study participants were distracted by the actual activity, they were less likely to recognize short-term results, but would, likely, over time, feel real therapeutic results.

The engaging nature of art therapy programs may be the very reason it is highly successful as a means of counseling or therapy.

This claim is not a new argument, either.

Artistic legend, Pablo Picasso once said, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.”

And sLife Pieces to Masterpieces is not the only program in D.C. to have recognized the importance of art therapy in cognitive and social development.

Organizations such as Art Therapy and Art Group at Thrive have harnessed the idea of art therapy as well, making the practice of “creating” the main aspect of their counseling and therapy services.

Art Therapy group recognizes the importance of art in various aspects of development, calling it an integral part of their organization’s mission on the group’s website.

“[Art Therapy] is based on the belief that the creative process involved in artistic self-expression helps people to resolve conflicts and problems, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self esteem and self awareness, and achieve insight.”

Along with being integral as preventative and development services, art therapy also plays a role in rehabilitation at organizations such as Thrive, which provides art therapy sessions four times a week for the homeless, StreetSense reported.

Following those lines, a group called Art Therapy in Prison is currently conducting and collecting research about the essentials of art therapy as a rehabilitation measure in prisons. This organization has recently done extensive research into the positive results art therapy can have on individuals with anger issues and what types of preventative roles the results could play in prisons.

This concept ties back to the success of art therapy and the idea that because people are engaging in activities that only relate to their issues theoretically, rather than practically, the therapy sessions can have a stronger, or more lasting, impact.


Google Art Project gains popularity and Congressman endorses project’s efforts

Image representing Google as depicted in Crunc...

Image by CrunchBase

The University of Michigan’s Museum of Art joined the Google Art Project this week, a online collection of art that includes work from 150 museums and monuments around the world, including the White House.

The online collection holds over 40,000 high resolution images of art work, Ann Arbor news reported. The goal of the Google Art Project is to provide wide access to art work and broaden cultural understanding, without physical barriers.

Rep. John Dingell from Michigan endorsed the efforts of the project at an event held at the University of Michigan’s Museum of Art. He is a leading advocate in D.C. for improving cultural literacy in the pre-college education system.

In a time when museums are struggling financially, the Google Art Project hopes to aid in accessibility to art work for art education.

Read the full story of UMMA joining the Google project here.

The art of destruction: Canadian artist brings provocative gun control piece to the streets of D.C.

Photo by The Washington Post photographer Mike DeBonis.

Photo by The Washington Post photographer Mike DeBonis.

A self-proclaimed walking paradox, artist Viktor Mitic is not afraid to destroy what he creates.

This last week, Mitic hit the streets of D.C., as well as a few local art exhibits, with his piece, entitled “Incident.” The work of art is simple- a small yellow school bus decorated with bullet holes from 6,000 rounds of ammunition.

At first glance, it resembles an unspeakable tragedy, at second glance, a provocative statement that needs to be made.

The “Incident” made its U.S. debut last weekend, as it was placed on the back of a tow truck and driven around downtown Washington, D.C, The Washington Post reported. Many onlookers interviewed by The Post were disturbed by the piece, and some were inquisitive about the artist’s technique.

Regardless of individual reactions, the “Incident” is proof that art is necessary, and is many times the most effective means of grabbing public attention and provoking civic engagement.

Mitic originally created the “Incident” in light of a case of gang violence in his home town of Toronto, but was asked to bring his piece to the U.S. this week to be shown at an art exhibit held at the First Congregational Church of Christ in NW D.C. entitled the “Newton Project: Art Targets Guns.”

The piece made its original debut at the Toronto International Art Fair in September 2012.

The exhibit will last until May 19 and was put together in order to illustrate the need for more restrictive gun laws after the Newtown tragedy, through art. 40 different works of art will be on display at the First Congregational Church of Christ.

Revered Sid Fowler of First Congregational Church of Christ said on the church’s events blog that he believes art can go farther than news reports and legislation.

“Art goes deep into our imaginations and hearts. We can experience what often is difficult to articulate in words.  God can call us, disturb us, and inspire us through the gifts and insights of art. Our hope is that many people will see the images these artists have created and inspire greater public support for effective laws that will restore hope to survivors of violence and to our communities.”

The piece was also on display for three days at George Mason University.  An opening discussion was held Monday and hosted by Helen Frederick, the University’s professor of printmaking in the School of Art. Mitic was invited to lead a discussion with students about the process of “Incident’s” creation, according to GMU’s Newsdesk.

Frederick told GMU’s Newsdeck that she believes Mitic wants to send a vivid message about the issues and dangers of guns in society. She hoped the display of the piece at GMU would not only provoke discussion, but also political awareness for students on campus.

“Mr. Mitic’s artwork provides an important and relevant project for our students, and I am confident that his discussion with our students will spark a dialogue about the gun control bills now in Congress.”

Although Mitic told The Post he refuses to think of himself as an activist, the statement made through this piece is clear, if only because of the intentions of the Newtown art exhibit in which it will be held this next month.

Despite claims of anti-activism, Mitic, at the very least, believes there is power in the usage of a weapon as an artist medium, as he has shot countless bullets through his artwork many times before.

For example, he created a series of pop art pictures this year of notable figures such as John Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, and outlined them with bullet holes. The series will be on display this month in Toronto.

At the end of the day, Mitic is a tranquil artist, using a weapon as a medium in order to simply create an uncomfortable paradox. He wrote a book entitled “Art or War” and speaks of his artistic intentions on his website’s biography page.

“The uneasiness with which people perceive weapons, since they were made for one purpose only (to destroy something living) puts me in an unique position—I use weapons to re-create iconic images. I carefully shoot the outline of the subject painted to generate the feeling of tranquility.”

As illustrated in the gun-control movement after the Newtown shootings, discomfort, whether through art or national tragedy, may sadly, be the only way to ignite change today.

Washington, D.C. recognized as capital of contemporary art

Multiverse, a light sculpture by Leo Villareal featuring over 21,000 custom-programmed LED nodes, located between the National Gallery of Art's East and West Buildings, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) As seen on Forbes.

Multiverse, a light sculpture by Leo Villareal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the past decade the art community in D.C. has worked hard to build its own artist reputation. This week Forbes declared D.C. as the capital of contemporary art.

Forbes recognized the ConnerSmith Gallery as a driving force that pushed the local art community into success. ConnerSmith Gallery views contemporary art as a “primary business objective” for the local community.

The gallery is owned by Leigh Conner and Jamie Smith. Click here for the full version of a Forbes interview with the art gallery owners as they discuss their business’ growth strategy and their vision for the local art community.

Yo-Yo Ma plans to save the arts

Classical musician Yo-Yo Ma delivered the Nancy Hank Lecture on Art and Public Policy at the Kennedy Center on Monday night.

Yo-Yo Ma is self described as a “venture culturalist” and made a performance out of his speech, entitled “Art for Life’s Sake,” WRTI Classic and Jazz radio reported.

Ma focused on the ideas of diversity and education, and made the claim that societies are powered by politics, economics and culture. He said that art is essential to the strength of culture and that art equips students with four necessary skills for life in the 21st century; collaboration, flexibility, imagination and innovation.

His lecture lasted an hour and a half on Monday night.

Read the full story here.

New Hill Center Poetry Series to be sponsored by The Washington Post

Cover of "Praise Song for the Day: A Poem...

Cover via Amazon

By Nicole Lafond


In honor of National Poetry Month, CBS DC compiled and posted a list of the “Best Poetry Events in Washington, D.C.” yesterday. As I read through the list, one stuck out to me- “Hill Center Series: Elizabeth Alexander Reading.”

On April 10, the Hill Center will launch its new poetry series at the Old Naval Hospital, CBS D.C. reported. The event will be co-sponsored by The Washington Post and The Library of Congress Poetry and Literature Center.

The Naval Hospital was recently renovated and now serves as a cultural arts center. It is two blocks from the Eastern Market Metro on Pennsylvania Avenue in the Southeast.

Ron Charles, fiction editor of The Washington Post, will host this new series. The initial event on April 10 will feature a reading by Elizabeth Alexander and a discussion of her work, led by Charles.

In his blog post this month, Charles explained his plans for the new series.

“As the host of this new quarterly series, I’ll be interviewing notable American writers about their verse and what influences and inspires them.”

Native to Washington, Alexander is a notable poet to be the launching point for this new series. She is a professor at Yale University and has written six books. In 2009 she read her poem “Praise Song for the Day” at President Barack Obama’s first inauguration.

Charles credited editorial direction of the project to Robert Casper, director of the Library of Congress’ Poetry and Literature Center, and organizational direction to Mary Brownlow, programming consultant for Hill Center.

The three began planning for the poetry series in September of 2012.

The second conversation of the series will take place on Oct. 1 of this year and will feature a reading and discussion with poet Nick Flynn.

Charles was thrilled to be appointed the host position for the series.

“For me, hosting the Hill Center Poetry Series is like a revival of The Washington Post’s beloved ‘Poet’s Choice’ column, which I had the honor of editing for several years.”

As a co-sponsor of the event, The Post plans to supply advertising and promotional material. The presentations will be free to the public, but those wanting to attend have to RSVP online and order tickets.

Events such as these have become popular among various publications and news outlets recently. Politico hosts discussions and interview with various D.C. celebrities almost twice a month at its Politico Playbook Breakfasts and Playbook Cocktails events.

Although beneficial and educational, I must question the ethicality of these types of publication-sponsored events. Are news organizations and publications actually creating news, and therefore gaining free publicity, by sponsoring or hosting these open forum discussions and interview events?

The World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers recently posted an article on its website that argued hosting events is a beneficial activity for news outlets.

“If organizing events makes it possible to both create closer ties with communities and provide an additional revenue source, they would seem a win-win initiative for any news outlet. There have also been signs of newspapers waking up to engaging more directly with their audience.”

Audience interaction and revenue boosting are both perfectly honorable goals, however I can’t seem to ignore the fact that publications and news outlets creating news for other publications and news outlets will never be an ethical practice.