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Art therapy taken to next level

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The essence of art therapy lies in helping participants imagine new possibilities for change and implement different ways of engaging their world.

Now Community Living Fort Frances and District (CLFFD) is bringing that perspective not only to its service users, but the community at large, after having hired art therapist Lindsay Hamilton for a one-year term and opening an art therapy studio at 335 Scott St.

“Community Living Fort Frances and District is very excited about the opportunity to create partnerships with community members, community agencies, and individuals to raise awareness of, and access to, the benefits of art as therapy,” executive director Alanna Barr said yesterday.

Thanks to special project funding from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp., Hamilton will spend the next year educating participants about how the creative process of having an outlet for artistic expression expands skills, increases social networks, and builds self-esteem and confidence through mastering art materials and creative art techniques.

Hamilton, who graduated last October with a diploma from the Kutenai Art Therapy Institute in Nelson, B.C., conducted several art workshops with Community Living service users from 2011-13, leaving no doubt in Barr’s mind about the value of an art therapy program here.

It just took a while for CLFFD to access the funding needed to support it.

“Some places we applied for funding but it just didn’t meet their criteria,” Barr explained.

“So finally the NOHFC came through and we’re very excited.”

Hamilton noted that in her time working with Community Living, its service users have done art in boardrooms, parks, the street, at the Little Beaver Cultural Centre, and elsewhere.

But the art therapy program had grown to the point where the next logical step was to be able to provide a dedicated—and fully-accessible—space for participants to create.

“This is a much more supportive space that lends to creativity and will allow a forum for expression,” Hamilton said.

Having a studio also will help acknowledge and validate the work that’s been done so far by Community Living service users and “expanding it to the next level,” she added.

Located right across the street from CLFFD, the studio currently is being used by “closed groups” of Community Living service users.

But starting next Thursday (Sept. 8), it also will be opened up to the public on a weekly basis.

Every Thursday from 3-7 p.m., service users and their families, as well as any other children, teens, and adults, are free to drop in at 335 Scott St. and create whatever they like.

“It’s not a structured class,” Hamilton stressed. “I might have a creative project just to stimulate creativity, but mostly what it is is a space for people to come and make art.

“They can come and work on their own projects or they can make art from materials that are here,” she explained, adding a fee likely will be charged for the use of materials.

“This is open to everyone,” she reiterated. “The emphasis of an open studio is: ‘Art is great linchpin that can bring all different people together.’

“The act of creating with each other is a way to see equality within a diverse population,” Hamilton noted.

CLFFD is “about inclusiveness,” agreed Barr, adding Community Living is urging other groups and agencies to contact Hamilton and make arrangements to participate in an art session.

This even might include a business that might want to have its employees work together on an art project as a team-building exercise.

Plans also are in the works to offer the program in Emo and Rainy River during the term of the project.

Hamilton stressed no experience is required to make art at the studio—the experience is within the person.

“If someone draws stick people, and it’s about something very personal and deep for them, then those are the best stick people ever,” she remarked.

“All forms of art are welcome here.”

What types of art projects will be done will depend on the feedback she receives from the public.

During the open studio time each Thursday, people will be able to do whatever art they like. But the studio also may host weekend workshops with Hamilton or other artists teaching specific techniques.

“I guess it’s all based on the needs of the community—what they would like to do— and we’ll see if we can make that happen,” Hamilton said.

Past projects with Community Living service users have included sculpture, mixed media, painting, drawing, and collage, both individually and collaboratively.

Hamilton has spent time this past month getting the studio ready, and wants the space to lend itself to “spontaneous art-making.”

“I set up the room and table like it’s a banquet of art materials, and I trust that a participant will find something in there that will suit their needs that day and they’ll make art from that,” she noted.

“It’s a smorgasbord of creativity,” echoed Barr.

“That has to do with being able to completely accept where a person’s at, coming in as they are with their specific needs and their specific skill set, and having complete faith they’ll do what they need to do that day,” said Hamilton.

“And having complete respect for whether they want to talk or if they want to just work on their art quietly,” she added.

With “art as therapy,” the work is process-based, meaning the process of making art is as important as the end result, said Hamilton.

The creative process of making art improves and enhances the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages.

It is based on the belief that the creative process involved in art self-expression helps people:

  • resolve conflicts and problems;
  • develop interpersonal skills;
  • manage behaviour;
  • cope with stress;
  • work through traumatic experiences;
  • increase cognitive, memory and neurosensory abilities; and
  • achieve greater self-fulfilment.

Hamilton said art can be cathartic—a means for the release of emotion—and that it can be a “mirror of the self” by providing personal insight.

Barr, meanwhile, said she’s hopeful that over the next year, the district—whether it’s groups, individuals, or the community at large—will come to recognize the value of art therapy and what art can do for a person.

Groups and agencies interested in finding out more about art therapy can contact Hamilton via e-mail at lhamilton@clfortfrances.com

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