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How Making Art Helps Improve Mental Health | Science – Smithsonian Magazine



Artist Drawing

Patients who are struggling with everything from ADHD to eating disorders have turned to art therapy for help.
Illustration by Emily Lankiewicz

Like many, Andrea Cooper felt increasingly isolated and lonely during the coronavirus pandemic. Cooper, a retired graphic designer and amateur folk musician who leads a grant-funded art program for cancer patients at Baltimore’s Mercy Medical Center, is a highly social person. So when the pandemic led to the cancellation of many of her activities and events, and caused others to be switched to Zoom, she missed her usual face-to-face connections with others.

As the pandemic dragged on, her mental health began to suffer even more. Eventually, Cooper’s depression got so bad that she had to be hospitalized. As part of her recovery, she participated in a ten-day inpatient program and began working with an art therapist.

Even though she’s an artist herself, Cooper was at first skeptical of the therapist’s prompts, which were meant to inspire Cooper and other patients to draw and paint as a means of working through their pain. But as Cooper spent more time thinking about her mental health, she began to deeply contemplate the therapist’s questions, including one about growth. “I thought about it and knew I was going to have to make some hard decisions in order to grow, that if I kept on the same track, things were not going to get any better,” says Cooper, who is 66.

In the end, she drew pair of pruning sheers cutting one of the stems of a rose bush. On her drawing, she wrote: “Sometimes you have to prune the flower to encourage growth.”

Cooper is one of the many individuals who have experienced the benefits of art therapy, an integrative treatment that uses artistic self-expression as a means of improving mental health and well-being. And as individuals continue to work through the mental health challenges brought on by the pandemic—which triggered a 25 percent increase in depression and anxiety around the globe, according to the World Health Organization—this niche therapy is poised to become even more popular. The pandemic brought up many difficult-to-define feelings and emotions, and making art in the presence of a licensed therapist can be a mindful, low-tech way to work through them.

Making art as a form of mental health treatment dates back to the mid-20th century, when soldiers returning from the battlefields of World War II were left with a condition that was known as “shell shock,” but is now called post-traumatic stress disorder. Veterans painted, drew, sculpted and made other forms of art to help process what they’d witnessed and experienced at war. “They struggled with traditional forms of medical and therapeutical intervention,” says Girija Kaimal, an art therapist at Drexel University and the president of the American Art Therapy Association (AATA). “Experiences like trauma are very difficult to articulate into words, so therapies that can support and connect patients with nonverbal expression are really the foundation of the creative arts therapies.”

The practice has been growing ever since. Today, around 5,000 art therapists practice in the United States, plus more around the world. They use the treatment to help patients in myriad situations. Children in schools have worked with art therapists to deal with social and emotional difficulties, behavioral disorders, ADHD, low self-esteem and other issues. Adults who have experienced some kind of trauma have tried it as well. Therapists have brought art to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, teens facing mental health issues, veterans, aging seniors, patients with eating disorders, prisoners and many other groups experiencing physical and mental health challenges.

Therapists offer treatment in groups or in one-on-one settings, and the therapy itself can take on many forms—from unstructured doodling to more specific prompts and activities designed to help patients make sense of their emotions. Patients can initially be reluctant to engage—often because they don’t consider themselves to be artistic or they haven’t made art since childhood—so therapists sometimes have to get creative. “I might ask them to make a gesture or even try to make a sound like a sigh, and then use colors, shapes and lines to show me what that looks like,” Cathay Malchiodi, an art therapist and the director of the Trauma-Informed Practices and Expressive Arts Therapy Institute, told Art in America magazine’s Jacoba Urist in October 2021.

Of course, humans—and our prehistoric ancestors—have been making art since long before art therapy became an established field. Though archaeologists disagree about exactly what constitutes art, they believe the practice dates back to at least the Paleolithic, tens of thousands of years ago. And though no one knows exactly why prehistoric individuals felt compelled to paint on and carve up the walls of caves, based on the amount and geographic reach of prehistoric art, they likely got some enjoyment out of this artistic expression. “Art-making for health and well-being is as old as the hills—it’s not anything new,” says Kaimal. “Every community has creative practices that we’ve engaged in for as long as we’ve been around.”

But why art? When patients have a hard time putting feelings into words, drawing, painting, sculpting, making collages, creating personalized papier-maché masks and engaging in other practices can help them unlock their emotions and translate them into something real. In the process, they’re able to share a bit of what they’re going through with the folks around them. Like other forms of therapy, art is also a safer, healthier way to channel stress and other negative emotions into action compared to destructive or harmful choices, says Kaimal. “Engaging in the artistic practice helps concretize and externalize these difficult inner experiences,” she says. “When we limit ourselves to just words, we’re losing a significant part of our lived experiences. Some people can put their feelings into words beautifully, but most of us cannot. To have additional expressive forms is really just allowing the whole person to present themselves.”

Research has found that making art can activate reward pathways in the brain, reduce stress, lower anxiety levels and improve mood. Various studies have also looked at its benefits among specific populations: It’s been linked with reduced post-traumatic stress disorder and depression among Syrian refugee children and lower levels of anxiety, PTSD and dissociation among children who were victims of sexual abuse, for example. Art therapy can help reduce pain and improve patients’ sense of control over their lives.

Because art therapy can be particularly helpful when folks don’t have the words to describe their experience or challenges, it’s ideally suited for improving mental health and well-being in the wake of the pandemic, which gave rise to abstract emotions like languishing and burnout. In AATA’s May 2020 coronavirus impact report, therapists pointed out that individuals are simply tired of talking about the pandemic and such feelings—and, because of all-day meetings on Zoom, talking in general. During art therapy, they don’t have to say a word if they don’t want to—but they can still work through their emotions. As one therapist noted in the survey, many clients “welcome expressing themselves using art materials, giving their brains a new task and their mouths a break.”

Making art is a hands-on process that requires total focus, which means it also offers a break from screentime, which surged during the pandemic. As Mallory Braus and Brenda Morton wrote in the journal Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy in 2020, “In art therapy, mindfulness is what allows an individual to receive the therapeutic benefit of ‘tuning out’ the daily stress and anxiety and to focus on a single task while also focusing on the materials employed for self-expression.”

Art therapy isn’t a cure-all and it may not be the right approach for everyone—it often works well as a complement to other traditional therapies, Kaimal says—but it can have definite benefits. Still, researchers need to do more to fully understand how, why and when art therapy works. Much of the research draws on the anecdotal experiences of clinicians and patients, and many studies have had small sample sizes, Kaimal notes. Experts need to conduct more randomized control trials and larger-scale quantitative studies to help sway health insurance companies to recognize art therapy as a form of treatment—and pay for it. The field could also benefit from additional evidence around how art therapy affects different populations. “Compared to other mental health professions, we have a long way to go,” she says.

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What Should We Expect of Art? – The New York Times



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What Should We Expect of Art?  The New York Times

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Concordia's Art Volt Collection aims to help launch the careers of fine art grads — University Affairs – University Affairs



The initiative includes a ‘bootcamp’ in art marketing and sales skills.

A newly launched art collection aims to support graduating students and recent alumni of Concordia University’s faculty of fine arts as they launch their careers in the competitive commercial market, while simultaneously giving the general public an opportunity to buy or rent artworks.

The Art Volt Collection (AVC) is the latest initiative of Art Volt, a platform launched in March 2020 with a variety of programs helping to help Concordia’s fine arts alumni as they transition out of school.

The new collection features about 140 artworks from 25 artists working in a variety of media, including print, painting, photography, video, ceramics and textile installations. The collection officially launched with an event at Maison du Conseil des arts de Montréal on May 17.

“It’s very important for artists to have support in the years after they graduate,” said Camille Bédard, head of AVC. “The three to five years that follow graduation are the most critical ones, because this is when artists decide if they will continue or not in their artistic path. Art Volt is there, at this pivotal moment for them.”

The not-for-profit service is supported by the Peter N. Thomson Family Innovation Fund. In 2019, the Peter N. Thomson Family Trust gave a $5.6 million gift to Concordia’s faculty of fine arts. That donation supports three areas, including the innovation fund. Each year, the AVC will make a call for submissions to acquire new art, from artists who have graduated in the past five years. Graduating students and alumni submit their work to be reviewed by a professional jury, made up of faculty, artists and curators.

Twenty-five artists were selected for the first collection, a number that could grow in the future, Ms. Bédard said. The artists’ work is showcased online, providing exposure and connections to patrons interested in renting or buying pieces, and there’s are also plans for future in-person exhibitions.

Another major component of AVC is professional development. Prior to the collection’s launch, the first group of artists attended a day and a half of “bootcamp” training, covering topics including how to properly package artwork, price pieces, and how to write a bio and artistic statement. “All the workshops that we give at the bootcamp are skills that they don’t necessarily learn at school, but they need,” Ms. Bédard said.

That focus on professional development, alongside the jury process for selection, sets the collection apart from other university initiatives that rent or sell student art. “It’s really about supporting their careers as they enter their professional life. We’re covering a wide range of skills that are part of the artistic life, but that you don’t learn while you’re at school,” Ms. Bédard said. “Art Volt is somewhat of a transition between university and real life.”

One of the artists in the first collection is Alexey Lazarev, a Montreal-based multidisciplinary visual artist who graduated from Concordia in 2019. He first participated in the Art Volt platform’s workshops and presentations before successfully submitting his work to the collection. A few of his pieces sold at the launch event, and a few more have sold through the collection’s website.

“Participating in a program like this has helped me understand the realities of the business, what it takes to be an artist, and to have some sales and make some money. It’s also good for visibility and to make new connections,” Mr. Lazarev said. “I think more universities should do a program like this; it really adds value.”

While the program’s model is unique to Concordia, Ms. Bédard sees opportunity for other universities to adapt it to meet their own needs. “I would suggest thinking, what do your artists and students need, in terms of making it into the art world? What can you offer them to help them? Maybe it’s providing them with skills and certain tools, or maybe it’s exposure,” she said.

Already, the collection has helped showcase student artists to the broader university community by providing opportunities to buy or rent original art. “There are lots of offices in universities but there was previously no way to have artworks by students in those offices,” Ms. Bédard said. “With the collection, we’ll bring artworks of Concordia students into Concordia offices, instead of having just random artworks.”

Anyone can purchase or rent artwork from the collection, but first they have to become a member of the AVC. Annual memberships start at $25, and philanthropic donations of $250 or more include automatic membership in the collection, alongside other perks. Artists set their own prices for their pieces, and the AVC takes a 30 per cent commission on sales, which Ms. Bédard said is lower than the industry standard of 50 per cent.

Already, plans are underway to expand what is available through the AVC so that graduating students and alumni from all nine departments in Concordia’s faculty of fine arts are eligible for transitional support. Acquiring a theatre play is not the same as acquiring a painting, Ms. Bédard said, so the focus will be less on buying and selling and more on providing artists with increased visibility and connections in their fields.

One way to do that is through partnerships. For example, performances will take place this August and September featuring the work of Concordia students in dance, visual arts and theatre at Art POP, the visual arts segment of the POP Montreal International Music Festival.

“The collection has just started, and already there are so many more ideas that we have in mind to develop,” Ms. Bédard said. “Having access to that visibility and exposure is really key.”

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Urban art and music festival in Sudbury this weekend – CTV News Northern Ontario



Preparations are underway in downtown Sudbury for the Up Here Festival this weekend.

It’s an urban art and musical event to brighten the downtown with colourful murals and showcase emerging music.

Twin brothers, originally from Halifax, are painting the first mural at the Up Here Festival 2022.

Using a scissor lift, paint cans and brushes, the artists said this creation is called Moose and Bear.

“We wanted to do something big and bold and colourful and friendly that is approachable since it’s such a public area. So yah like everyone loves animals, everyone loves colourful paintings,” said artist Greg Mitchell.

The twin brothers now live in Toronto and operate a creative agency called Born in the North. They were invited artists to take part in the festival.

“I love being a part of it. It’s like a huge compliment too to to be trusted with this massive wall for the festival. I think it’s the first one that is being done for the festival so it’s a big honour and yes it’s just really fun to be outside all day paining this,” said Chris Mitchell.

The Up Here Festival kicks off this Friday featuring urban art activities for all ages and eclectic music.

“Paint a bunch of new murals within the downtown core and we present emerging acts so some of the best emerging talent from across the country,” said Christian Pelletier, a co-founder of the Up Here Festival.

“So not necessarily big names that everyone knows but a lot of acts that are going to be headliners of tomorrow.”

The festival has been running for eight years now and organizers said it’s growing each year.

“For us the project really started as an idea you know of beautifying the downtown core and it has quickly transformed into a way to engage with the community. To put up art that challenges people’s perspectives that also adds a little bit of quirk and wonder to their daily routine,” said Pelletier.

Up Here Square is a unique area on Durham Street.

Organizers said there will be a number of concerts throughout the weekend that are pay as you can to make them accessible to everyone.

For more information on the festival, visit their website.

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