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.


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.

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]

D.C. arts budget for 2013 raised by $6.8 million

Photo by Lanie Rivera

By Lanie Rivera

Despite frequent budget cuts for the arts, such as the funding decreases facing the Fillmore Arts Center, the District’s fiscal year 2013 budget increased funding for the arts by 133.2 percent from the allotted amount in 2012, according to this news release from the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA).

Although this raise is second to Michigan’s 271 percent increase, the District of Columbia’s $6.8 million arts budget restoration is the highest of any state.

D.C. is now ranked the fifth state for total arts spending, following Maryland, New Jersey, Minnesota and New York, according to this article by Elevation D.C.

The District will spend a total of $11.1 million on the arts.

The summation of all state arts appropriations raised by 7.4 percent; it is both reassuring and inspiring to see D.C.’s arts boost exceeding this increase, demonstrating the community’s high regard for the arts.

Jonathan Katz, the CEO of NASAA, agreed, but he added that this stimulation for 2013 cannot be the end of support for the arts in the District, according to the organization’s news release.

” ‘The recent increase in state arts funding is a welcome and encouraging sign, but the road to recovery remains long,’ he said. ‘Since 2001, state appropriations to the arts have declined by nearly 40 percent, leading to cutbacks in arts programs and services that have been keenly felt at the local level.’ ”

He added that art is an asset to any community, and legislators would be wise to invest in the arts.

” ‘These [art] agencies can help elected officials achieve almost every goal they have: creating jobs, improving education, attracting businesses, rebuilding distressed regions and promoting a distinctive state brand identity,’ ” he said.