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.

Art students use NEXT exhibit to address political issues

Kim Jong Un

Oil painting of Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, by student Robert Yi.
*Photo courtesy of VOA

By Lanie Rivera

Art students from D.C.’s Corcoran College of Art and Design presented their final art projects at the college museum, on display until May 19, many of which have a politically charged meaning.

The students’ artwork has been compiled into an exhibit called NEXT, the name symbolic of the students who will receive their degrees move on from the undergraduate art program in May.

Robert Yi, a student from South Korea, presented many paintings in the exhibit, including one of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

He explained his intended message to Voice of America:

“My paintings are called Mask paintings. And it’s the idea that, in society today, no matter where you are, people put on a mask,” he said. “That idea is expressed in North Korea because the people of North Korea, the citizens, put on a face…they’re required to act happy.”

Other students targeted different political issues.

Jason Tucker, a fine art photography major, sought to reflect his homosexual identity in his artwork by researching the meaning of derogatory terms for homosexual people.

“I started doing a lot of research into words that have a specific meaning within a gay male context, and so I started with the word ‘faggot,'” he said. “The root of the word comes down to ‘a bundle of sticks.’ So I started with that and wanted to make a self-portrait. So I ended up collecting my exact body weight in sticks…I wanted to take something that I’ve been called before, that was an epithet, and make something beautiful out of it.”

Read more about the D.C. students’ art exhibit here.

Stipends for D.C. art teachers help buy supplies

Photo by Lanie Rivera

Photo by Lanie Rivera

By Lanie Rivera

For every loss arts programs suffer, there seems to be an equal, opposing force in support of arts programs; the latest contribution was to D.C. public and charter schools’ arts initiatives, thanks to the DC Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative(DHAHEC).

On April 3, the DHAHEC partnered with Plaza Art to announce that they will offer a limited amount of free stipends for D.C. teachers to buy art supplies from Plaza Artist Materials.

D.C. public or charter school art teachers can apply for a stipend of $150 or less. The funds are meant to help implement Visual Art lessons in the classroom.

Teachers are encouraged to apply through this on-line form.

To read the full story, click here.

One Million Bones installation to speak for over a million stories

*Check out this video of a similar project (50,000 bones) in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2011 

By Lanie Rivera

An art installation made of one million bones is scheduled to be displayed at the National Mall in June; the goal is to make a minute but powerful representation of the people who have suffered from mass genocides and atrocities across the globe.

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

The One Million Bones project demonstrates the strength of art as a social call to action against injustices.

The bones, created by art students and teachers of Kearney High School, Horizon Middle School, Kearney Catholic and Sumner Public School, are ceramic.

Residents of central Nebraska were invited to participate in the project on April 6 at the Museum of Nebraska Art by molding bones themselves.

To learn more about the project, visit the project’s website. Read the full article here.

National Gallery of Art promotes self-guided tours with new mobile app

Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

By Lanie Rivera

The National Gallery of Art (NGA) encourages visitors to be their own tour guides.

NGA released “Your Art,” its new, free app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch last week.

The app allows visitors to explore the galleries through two self-guided tours. It also keeps consumers up to date with a list of events and exhibitions, images of various works housed at the museum, as well as visitor information.

And if you haven’t jumped onto the Apple bandwagon, NGA allows visitors to borrow one of 20 iPod Touches from the West Building Audio Tour Desk.

For more information, read this article by the Washington City Paper.

Congressional Art Competition winner’s work to be displayed in U.S. Capital

Photo by Lanie Rivera

Photo by Lanie Rivera

The Congressional Art Competition is currently taking place across the United States and will last until the end of April.

Each spring high school students nationwide are encouraged to submit artistic pieces of work to their local representatives, whereupon they will be entered into a national competition. The national winning piece will be selected after entries had been submitted and the winner’s work will be displayed in the U.S. Capital building for a year.

The winner will also receive two airplane tickets to fly out to D.C. in June to attend the award ceremony, as well as a $3,000 artistic scholarship for college, The MetroWest Daily News reported.

Each representative sets his or her own due dates and guidelines. Forms, information and previous winners can be found here.

The District seen through an artistic lens

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

Photo courtesy of Google Maps

By Lanie Rivera

While on your everyday commute, you pass by that colorful mural in your local metro station twice a day — do you ever wonder what it means? Which artist painted it? If there are any more like it in the District, and where?

Well, lucky for you, District art lovers combined their local art findings onto one convenient map, creating a simple way to plan a weekend trip to explore the city and quench your thirst for D.C. art culture.

The map features locations, descriptions and titles of public art pieces, delving deeper into the District’s rich artistic history.

Check out the mural details and the interactive map here.

Relative importance of community-based art projects climb


Photo by Art Matters, on Easy City Art

By Nicole Lafond


Two University of Vermont students recently curated a community art project on the school’s campus, encouraging student and faculty members to express what makes them feel “Alive.”

The two Davis Center curators and juniors at the University of Vermont were inspired by a recent gallery at the Penny Cluse restaurant, and decided to bring the idea to their campus, the Vermont Cynic reported. The exhibition is currently being featured in the Dudley H. Davis Center on campus.

The Dudley H. Davis Center is a community center on the university’s campus. It claims to be student focused, complements the university’s academic mission, supports social justice and is environmentally conscious, according to the center’s website.

Maya Curtis and Blair Borax were the brains behind this community art project. The two-student team arranged the specifics of the exhibit and held an opening reception on March 20. The exhibit opened March 19 and will last until April 12, according to the University of Vermont’s arts calendar.

Community member participants were given few instructions for this exhibit. They were given an eight by eight piece of plywood, asked to express their notions of the word “alive” and then return the finished product to be displayed in the exhibit.

The exhibit’s inspiration, “Run” featured at Penny Cluse, functioned similarly to “Alive,” but Curtis and Borax told the Cynic they hoped to make their exhibit more community focused.

“It is definitely important to value fine art, but I think it’s equally important to level with a public who aren’t all art critics, to makes this space inclusive.”

A vast array of skill levels and artistic mediums was the goal of the exhibit, according to the student curators. Community artists who have contributed to date utilized products such as markers, glitter and fake flowers, according to the observations of the Cynic reporter.

Borax has worked with the concept of community art before, and said she sees it as an important part of any art gallery’s relations with the public.

“This is not a super fine art thing, but I think it’s important to get the student body involved.  Especially in the Davis Center where their mission is related to social justice and environmental sustainability.”

Despite experience with community-based art projects, Borax was disappointed with the level of engagement she has encountered so far at her university’s art center. Only 15 people had signed up to participate in the “Alive” exhibit, but the pair said they were expecting more to express interest after the opening reception.

The pair also plans to engage in and curate more community art projects in the future.

Community-based art projects are not a new concept in Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area. Organizations such as Civilian Art Projects and City Arts exist because of community engagement in artistic exhibits. These community-based art projects could be the future of art programs in D.C. and beyond.

Civilian Art Projects is a gallery located on Seventh Street in the North West that exists solely to help spread the vision of amateur artists. The gallery provides a platform for community members to engage in the art works of local emerging artists while allowing community members a place to explore their own interests and engage in expression.

Similarly, City Art has created a business model based around the importance of community art.

“City Arts also conducts mural and mosaic residencies at Washington, DC area public, private, and charter schools. These projects involve hundreds of students – most of whom do not have formal art training – in the creation of artworks that pay tribute to their schools and surroundings. Through partnerships with local nonprofits, City Arts offers after-school and summer art workshops.”

I argue local community art projects are one of the most productive means of engaging locals in the power and importance of the arts, and may be the answer to art education in the D.C. community and beyond.

Local D.C. school officials have recently made plans to close 15 public schools in the district, the Washington Post reported. Plans to cut art funding to a prominent art organization, Fillmore, have also been recently announced.

These cuts have local parents and community members frustrated with the priority quality education, specifically arts education, has in the local community.

An increase in the number of art, music and foreign language programs was used as a justification for the “consolidation efforts”  of the DCPS, in response to a recent law suit filed by activists hoping to halt the closure of these 15 schools.

School officials should be criticized for the lack of evidence behind this claim made by DCPS spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz. The connection independent community art projects have with schools in the district could be the source of DCPS’ claim, making the claim invalid, as these independent organizations do not claim to be active DCPS affiliates, but rather affiliated with student based non-profit organizations.

The importance of community of art projects is more prominent now that community members fear art funding cuts and public school closures, but should not be cited as a justification behind such actions.

The future of the local art industry in D.C. may lie in the hands of community-based projects, such as “Alive.”

Fillmore Arts Center faces significant budget cuts

*Video produced by students of the Fillmore Arts Center.

By Lanie Rivera

DC Public Schools (DCPS) recently announced budget cuts facing the District’s Fillmore Arts Center for the 2013-14 school year, according to this letter from the Friends of Fillmore group, a non-profit volunteer board that supports the Fillmore Arts Center.

The downsized arts budget is baffling, as it conflicts with assurances from city officials such as DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, as well as the District’s $6.8 million arts budget increase from fiscal year 2012-13 (a $2.3 million arts funding increase was proposed by Mayor Vincent Gray for fiscal year 2014 but has yet to be approved).

Henderson, who has recently been under fire for closing D.C. schools, promised that local schools’ arts programs would flourish after 15 schools close. Additional revenue that funded the schools will be allocated to those schools that remain open.

But an article on the Georgetown Dish noted that the arts budget decrease contradicts Henderson’s predictions:

“This year’s cuts to arts and music education at the eight schools come at a curious time: When Henderson announced her citywide school closure and consolidation plan last November, she that said by [closing] 15 schools … the school system would be able to fund more programming, including arts and music, at those that remained open.”

In response to the budget cuts, the Friends of Fillmore group, housed in the same building as Hardy Middle School, created a petition to rally parents together on the issue. Their goal is to force Henderson to stop the impending cuts and restore $300,000 to the program.

Fortunately, the Friends of Fillmore petition has already received tremendous support from Disrtict residents who also value the arts program.

According to a March 22 blog post by the Kelly Richmond, board chair of Friends of Fillmore, “over 250 Fillmore ‘friends’ sign[ed] the petition [since March 21] and reading all the tremendous comments of how Fillmore touches the lives of children past and present who have been able to attend touches my heart.”

Established in 1974, the Fillmore Arts Center provides art education to students at eight public schools in the District. Students are bused to one of two Fillmore locations in the District for two hours of art instruction, which includes classes in music, painting, graphic design, ceramics, theater, dance, architecture and sculpture.

So, I raise this question: why are programs such as Fillmore’s facing threats of budget decreases despite Henderson’s promise? And why cut funding when the District’s budget for arts programs recently increased?

The author of an article on Georgetown Patch posed a related question while noting that Fillmore provides a comprehensive, unmatched service to children through the arts:

“Why would DCPS take money away from a school that offers more in-depth programming —including an auditorium, graphic design lab and kiln — than any neighborhood school could provide on its own?”

In response, Peter Eisler, treasurer of Friends of Fillmore, told Patch that DCPS is “strapped for cash” and it is easier for them to take money from a comprehensive program rather than a single school.

Eisler also told Patch he assumes that Fillmore was subjected to drastic cuts because of the program’s schedule:

“Fillmore lacks the same level of dedicated constituency that you might find in a neighborhood school in part because the children only attend class there once a week, Eisler explained.”

Although Eisler implied that Fillmore has been pushed under the rug, DCPS differed in its response. A DCPS representative told Patch that the cuts were the schools’ fault because several schools stopped using Fillmore’s services.

Nonetheless, the budget cuts have undeniably upset the community. Many city officials do not support the budget decrease, including Councilman Jack Evans of Ward 2.

“I don’t agree with these kinds of cuts,” he told Patch.

When will authorities realize the valuable role art plays in the development of young children?

According to Facts and Figures, a 2012 report compiled by Americans for the Arts and Vans Custom Culture and cited by the Friends of Fillmore website, students who spend four years in art and music education earn an average SAT score of 100 points above those students who are exposed to one-half year or less of arts education.

The budget cuts will inhibit the award-winning program and will surely be a loss to students in the area. Luckily, many parents have recognized the importance of the program for their children’s education and are fighting against the funding decrease.

[WC: 730]