The year was 2017. I was well equipped to begin my brand-new art education job as an instructor for Awakening Minds Art, a small, grassroots nonprofit based in Findlay, Ohio. But the worlds of special needs, dementia, and whatever the heck a small, grassroots nonprofit is…now those were total mysteries to me...
What I’ve found over the last 5 years is that I was missing out by not interacting with whole populations of people, art is truly magical, and helping people see the value of giving—their time, money, love— feels really, really good.
So, here’s my blogging beginning—moving forward, I’ll share some of my research, stories, and reflections. There’ll be some art education, some advocacy, some snippets of what it looks like to work in the nonprofit sector, and definitely some shameless plugs for what we do at Awakening Minds Art!
Let’s start with what we’re actually doing at Awakening Minds Art in Findlay Ohio, and how we’re different from the typical art studio.
The mission of Awakening Minds Art (AMA) is to provide therapeutic and educational visual arts programs for all ages and abilities.
That means we do art education, we do community projects, we work with special needs, typical needs; we have art classes for toddlers, art for kids, art for seniors; we work with memory care; we help with stress-relief, and we also help with motor skills and we also help with behaviors, and we also help with language and social skills and feeling a sense of community and..and..and…
As you can imagine, when I began writing grants and talking to the community about AMA, I struggled REAL HARD with how to communicate what AMA is all about. Here’s what I’ve come up with:
Awakening Minds Art believes that art can benefit EVERYONE, and we believe it should be accessible to everyone, too! We’re a lifespan organization working hard to provide visual arts programming to as many people as we can. – How’s my elevator speech so far?
Now, we all know art education—that fun class in grade school where you learn how to cut and paste and draw. And there are plenty of reasons why art education is critical for development (don’t worry, I’ll get to those in the future) But first, let’s talk about that other word in our mission statement AND the main reason we differ from the typical art class…
What’s that you say? Art Therapy? Nope. No one at AMA is a licensed art therapist (and we don’t need to be). Art therapy versus therapeutic art: Just like in art therapy, stress-relief, confidence boosts, positive socialization, and being provided a safe environment to voice our emotions go hand-in-hand with therapeutic artmaking, but we’re also focused on brain and physical development.
Basically, therapeutic art means we take something as FUN as art and incorporate challenges based on the unique goals of each individual student. Art techniques, like painting, build non-art-related skills that aid in the success of the individual outside of the art studio! Students get the typical benefits of art while getting individual attention for the things that matter the most to them and their families in day-to-day life.
Some examples of therapeutic elements:
Therapeutic art is a wonderful accompaniment to other therapies and plans. It assists and advances
When I first began watching the other instructors at Awakening Minds Art work with their one-on-one, therapeutic students, I was particularly surprised to see how creativity often takes a second place to the process of painting. The student usually chooses the painting’s inspiration and makes some independent decisions along the way (like color choices), but the goal of the overall program is not to make an original masterpiece. It’s not even to make something pretty in the end! Process is King. And for some of the people who we work with, just practicing holding onto a paintbrush, even if it requires assistance, is the accomplishment that matters.
Sometimes it’s hard to convince someone, especially an elderly person who has lost abilities, that their work is worth celebrating. But therapeutic art celebrates victories, no matter how small, and at the very least, we’re left with an interesting mix of colors, an experience among friends, and time spent with an active brain and active muscles. After all, movement inspires movement!
Who knows what spreading a little paint around a page might inspire next!