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.
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.