Survival Art: Using Art Therapy to Heal

We are pleased to bring you this guest post from our new friend Elf Lady.  Her post originally appeared  here on her blog Elf Lady’s Chronicles, where she shares personal stories of surviving domestic violence, divorce and motherhood.  Elf Lady’s blog is wonderful narrative of her journey in healing, we think you’ll enjoy reading her work. 

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“Art opens the closets, airs out the cellars and attics. It brings healing.”
-Julia Cameron

As women we are artist of our own lives.  We exercise our creativity by providing healthy, hearty meals for our family, creating a cozy home, planning birthday parties and organizing holidays.  We are constantly creating.  In addition, women are the natural nurturers and healers in our society.  So what happens when we need to be healed? What happens when we need to be healed of the trauma and abuse we have experienced at the hands of an intimate partner?

As a survivor of domestic violence myself, my therapist, Michelle, recommended journaling as a means to deal with the emotions surrounding my abusive relationship and pending divorce.  I tried journaling, but it was too painful writing down my thoughts.  However, I knew from my sessions in Michelle’s office, her specialty was art therapy.

What is Art Therapy? According to the Art Therapy Alliance, art therapy is “the deliberate use of art-making to address psychological and emotional needs.  Art therapy uses art media and the creative process to help in areas such as, but not limited to: fostering self-expression, create coping skills, manage stress, and strengthen sense of self.  Art therapy has provided mental health treatment for clients who have experienced trauma, grief & loss, depression, chronic illness, substance abuse, and more.”

Michelle works with foster kids from abusive homes and other children dealing with various challenges.  She predominately uses art therapy for these children and teenagers as a means in dealing with their pain.  Her office is filled with pastels, paints, markers and sketchbooks.  The office walls are painted with colorful, bold pictures of flowers, vines, phrases, bricks and snowmen.  The paintings give me a sense of comfort and warmth regardless of not contributing to the collage of images myself.

I had been seeing Michelle for six months before I asked if I could try Art Therapy.  I considered myself a creative person.  As a child I sketched eyes and faces and wrote poetry, but that ended as I entered college to become an engineer. Today my creativity is expressed through every day activities such as cooking, decorating, gardening and at times photography.  I know  I don’t have the skills to be a true artist, and that’s okay.  Art therapy does not require skill.  It only requires you to try.

Gretchen Miller, MA, ATR-BC, CTC, writes, “Through art-making, survivors can make sense of and find their way out of chaos, frightful memories, and the raw emotion of their abuse to discover a sense of grounding, strength, safety, understanding, and hope.”

So I bought a pack of pastels and got out my sketch book.  One of the first pictures I drew in my sketchbook was of my husband.

My Husband

I wanted to draw a picture showing how I saw him that night and other nights when he was angry.  The dark blue is the coldness in his heart, my feeling of dread, and the darkness of my depression.  The fire represents how quickly my husband could explode transforming himself from a civil, normal man to a heartless, angry monster.

My next attempt expressed my feeling of being shattered and surrounded in a sea of chaos.  My marriage was shattered, my sense of self was shattered, my belief system was shattered.  Things I believed to be true were no longer true, so what was real and what was not?  Who or what could I believe anymore?

Shattered

After these short drawing sessions, I was always a little more at peace.  I felt a sense of relief getting these pictures and feelings out of my mind and soul and onto paper.

Although I could not afford it, in August I decided to rent a beach cottage for the week before my son returned to school.  He brought his beach toys, matchbox cars, and books.  I armed myself with my sketch book, pastels, and colored pencils in addition to my self-help books, camera, sunscreen, and beach chair.

The sound of the ocean and the warmth of the sun has its own healing properties. Sitting on the beach listening to the waves and watching my son play in the water, I could finally relax.  I began to capture this peace and solitude with my pastels and pencils.

The Beach

I first drew the view from the front porch of our little cottage.  I could sit on the porch in my rocking chair and watch the breeze blow the dune grass and lines of pelicans fly by.  Often I would see fishing trawlers and sailboats in the distance.

Colors of Seashells

Another favorite pastime that week was searching through the vast amounts of seashells deposited on the sand after high tide.  There were so many shells it looked like a dump truck had driven on the beach in the night and unloaded an entire load of beautiful, multi-colored seashells.

The sifting and searching for my favorite shells became meditative and therapeutic for me.  I was fascinated by the palette of colors nature applied in creating the shells. So, one night while sitting at the kitchen table, I laid out an assortment of my shells and captured their colors on paper.  Using pastels, I was able to blend the colors into shades that matched my shells. I realize my drawing doesn’t look like much, but I was pleased with the result and looking at the colors has a calming affect for me.

Finding Peace and Solitude

My last drawing at the beach was a sketch in a struggle to find some peace and solitude one day. As I drew this scene of my beach chair and umbrella, I was in reality having an anxiety attack.

My mom had decided on her own to follow us to beach for four days during the time my son and I were there.  Upon arrival, she proceeded to take control of my son and whisk him away for putt putt golf or swimming at the pool of the condo where she was staying regardless of any plans I may have had.  While I was grateful for the time my son was able to spend with his grandmother and the hour or two for a long walk on the beach, I felt these decisions were made for me and my peaceful vacation had been hijacked by my mom.  Striving to set boundaries, we eventually had words resulting in her leaving in a huff.  But I was much relieved to have regained control of my vacation.

Coming full circle, I want to share a drawing of one of my injuries I received the last night my husband assaulted me. I did not draw this until the end of September, a full nine months after the assault.    Creating this drawing was triggered by registering for a 5K benefiting Interact of Wake County, the local non-profit supporting victims of domestic violence.  As a survivor, I felt a duty to run in this race.  In the days leading up to this race, I started to relive that night.  I felt the sense of betrayal and shame all over again.  Finally, I decided to capture what happened that night on paper, hopefully coming to terms with it in some fashion.

Me & Betrayal

My sketches have brought me peace during and after drawing.  At times, the drawing has brought clarity to how I felt about my abusive relationship.  At other times the benefits of drawing cannot be put into words, but I know a small tectonic shift has occurred leading me further along my path of recovery.

While we may never pay our bills with our endeavors of painting, drawing, or sculpting, we are all artists of our own life.  Every day we create a beautiful mosaic of our lives with connections to our loved ones, our friends, our hobbies and passions, and events in our life.

As women, we are accustomed to the art of creating and the art of healing. We create nutritious meals for our family, beautiful gardens, and cozy, inviting rooms for our homes.  We heal our children when sick, our partners and friends when they are down and out.  Why not combine these two worthy and natural skills to heal ourselves through art?

The Harlem Renaissance – America’s Art and History

The Harlem Renaissance – America’s Art and History

One of the things I appreciate about art is how it brings history to life.  Art helps me to understand the past in a way that no history book ever has.  Art is personal, nuanced, and rich with emotion, connecting us to personal stories and experiences from the past, providing greater depth and meaning to history.

The Harlem Renaissance

I remember first hearing of the Harlem Renaissance in a college art history class, until that point I had never been aware of this creative period in American history.

The Harlem Renaissance refers to a period in America’s history when there was a wealth of art, literature, music and dance created by African Americans.  It was during this period, after the end of World War I to just before the Great Depression, that The Great Migration occurred, when a larger percentage of black Americans moved from  the south to industrial cities in the northeast and mid-west.

This was a period when significant social and geographic changes were taking place in the nation, and the art from this period both reflected theses changes and helped to drive further social change.

Women Artists of the Harlem Renaissance

This period in American history was also an historic time for women, after decades of struggle women gained the right to vote in 1920.  The art and writing of many of the African- American women during this period addressed not only race issues but gender issues as well.

Here are three women artists working during the Harlem Renaissance who’s work both reflected and helped to further social change.

(1) Zora Neale Hurston

Writer Zora Neale Hurston published poetry, short stories, novels and an autobiography, but it was her 1937 novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God” for which she is most famous.  After publication the novel, a coming of age story of an independent black woman met initially met with mixed critical success.

However, Alice Walker’s 1972 essay in Ms Magazine “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston” resulted in the book being reprinted and it is now a highly acclaimed novel.

Sometimes, I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me. – Zora Neale Hurston

(2) Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller

Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller a visual artist, started her art career by winning a scholarship to attend Philadelphia Museum School for the Arts and after earning her degree continued her art education in Paris, where she studied under Auguste Rodin.

Fuller’s sculpture Ethiopia Awakening depicts an African woman in a regal headdress, the lower portion of the body wrapped like a mummy, and is is described as symbolic of the emerging voice of black America.

(3) Bessie Smith

Blues singer Bessie Smith, considered one of the greatest singers of her era, performed on the vaudeville touring circuit, recorded for Columbia Records and made an appearance in a film and on Broadway.

She collaborated with numerous jazz and blues musicians, including Louis Armstrong.  Smith was bold and independent, and this was reflected in her music.

 

 

10 Quotes to Inspire You: Thoughts on Creating the Future

10 Quotes to Inspire You
Thoughts on Creating the Future

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The best way to predict the future is to invent it. – Alan Kay

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Just don’t give up trying to do what you really want to do. Where there is love and inspiration, I don’t think you can go wrong.  – Ella Fitzgerald

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There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it. – Edith Wharton

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  Your playing small does not serve the world. – Marianne Williamson

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I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning. Every day I find something creative to do with my life. – Miles Davis

The world has never yet seen a truly great and virtuous nation because in the degradation of woman the very fountains of life are poisoned at their source. – Lucretia Mott

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Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant. It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest. – Georgia O’Keeffe

Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and help them become what they are capable of being. – Goethe

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In the long run men hit only what they aim at. – Henry David Thoreau

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Dreams are necessary to life. – Anais Nin

The Art of Inspiration and Insight

The Art of Inspiration and Insight

With the new year comes thoughs of new possibilities.  There is something about the change in the calendar that stirs our desire to engage in creating our future.

At this time of year we like to be inspired to think in new, positive ways that help us to sort out our life and to see things differently. We want to be more insightful, to better understand ourselves and the world around us.

Inspire

Definition of Inspire – (1) Heighten or intensify; (2) Prompt; (3) Cheer, spur on, or encourage; (4) Revolutionize, fill with revolutionary ideas; (5) Inhale, draw in air

Inspiration is all about looking outward and engaging with new ideas.

Inspiration, that oh-so-mysterious element that may be hard to describe but one we recognize when it arrives, is what helps to compel us forward.  Inspiration may arrive as an ah-ha moment or a still small voice or a fire in our belly; it may arrive suddenly or we may slowly realized it was something we had with us all along.

Inspiration is what gives us new ways of seeing and of being in the world.  There is a life-force intrinsic in inspiration (inspire also means to breathe); it is in our nature to be engaged with creating, envisioning and bringing new ideas into being.

Art can inspire us. Art stimulates our mind, while creating or engaging with art we experience colors, patterns, shapes, and textures, using our brain in a different way.  Art presents ideas and perspectives that may be different from what we are most familiar with, encouraging us to explore other points of view.  The composition of images, music or performance offers an opportunity to examine aesthetic arrangements, either one you are creating in your own work or the artist’s composition, which can open us up to new ways of putting things together. Creative thinking stimulates new ideas and inspires us.

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Insight

Definition of Insight (1) Discern the true nature of a situation; (2) Grasping the inward or hidden nature of things; (3) Perceiving in an intuitive manner; (4) Ability to perceive clearly or deeply; (5) Ability to understand one’s own problems

Insight is all about looking inward and understanding inner nature.

Insight, we may think of it as a hunch or intuition or the ability to read a situation, is what helps us to better understand our feelings and reactions.  Insight also helps us to understand the emotions and motives of others. Insight may come from time spent in thought, from conversations or from our interactions in the world.

Insight is what gives us a greater understanding of attitudes and beliefs, both our own and others, and increases our ability to connect at an emotional level.  There is a personal, introspective quality in insight (insight is about looking in), by connecting with ourselves we become more thoughtful and better able to connect with others.

Art can encourage insight. Thoughtful, quiet time creating or experiencing art gives us the space to connect with our self and our emotions. In art symbols and metaphors are used to communicate underlying thoughts and feelings, ones that we may not yet understand or may have difficulty communicating. Through art we can also experience others emotional expressions, through imagery, rhythm and materials we can sense the thoughts and feelings imbedded in the work art.  Creative expression provides a better understanding of feelings and offers insight.

Creating Our Future

As this new year begins, the feeling of possibility fresh in the air, remain open to the inspiration and insight that the arts offer.  Look to art to stimulate your thoughts and to inspire new ideas.  Engage with art to connect with your emotions and develop greater insight.

Exercising the Art We Know

Exercising the Art We Know

Let each [wo]man exercise the art [s]he knows. ~Aristophanes

It is indeed a unique opportunity to be involved with a project or organization in which you are assured of the liberty to exercise the art you know. And when said project or organization is using art as a medium, it fosters innovation and multiplies the opportunities for empowerment and change, both for individuals and communities.

SpeakArtLoud provides me with such an experience.

We all have an innate desire to be part of something — a group or a cause — with people with whom we share a connection and a passion. In his book, Tribes, Seth Godin makes the point that as we connect to one another, we grant our permission to form tribes of purpose and vision — of action! And that building and participating in tribes facilitates innovation and prevents us from being “stuck.”

Tribes are about faith — about belief in an idea and in a community. ~Seth Godin

The vision of SpeakArtLoud not only invites the opportunity for a tribe, it affirms my own vision of “collaging” my business marketing expertise with my creative abilities — the art I know. And being in “the tribe” of SpeakArtLoud has not only prevented me from being stuck — it has propelled me into a complete paradigm shift!

Once recognized, the quiet yet persistent voice of curiosity doesn’t go away. ~Seth Godin

My work with SpeakArtLoud has proven to be one of the victories leading to a personal revolution — an overthrow of any lingering fears of the unknown pertaining to the meshing of business with art. It has ushered in the practice of a new manifesto, freeing me to embrace random tangents of creativity within the context of collaged boundaries. It also ensures I remain authentic to my strengths and weaknesses, my expertise and learning experiences, as well as the goals in my heart as an artist and businesswoman.

The time and talent I have already invested with SpeakArtLoud has produced a renewed clarity of my own vision as well as inspiring new frames in my proverbial {and actual!} vision board. The synergy of working with SpeakArtLoud’s founder and director, Sally Peters, has provided me both inspiration and affirmation.

During the past few months, we both have experienced inspiring moments of discovery and personal growth — unexpectedly tagged onto project work and strategy sessions. The liberty of moving beyond the order of agendas and the context of deadlines and tasks revealed the ability to produce tangible results in the fluidity of artistic expression and gifts differing.

Teresa Robinson {aka @stargardener has donned various hats in her professional career as a business consultant and community advocate. Her business, Right Brain Planner , offers a creative and eclectic approach to clients, inspiring them as they compile, {collage} and journey in the direction of their dreams.

10 Ways Art Helps to Create Good Health

10 Ways Art Helps to Create Good Health

When you have your health, you have everything

The World Health Organization has defined good health as the complete state of physical, mental and social wellbeing, not just the absence of disease or illness.  This definition of health acknowledges that good health and wellbeing require not just physical health, but also psychological and social wellbeing, it is a definition that recognizes that body, mind and community are all essential to good health.

It stands to reason, then, that if we wish to have good health we must care for not only our bodies, but also our minds and our communities. Our wellbeing depends on our connections with others and our emotional state, along with our physical fitness.

Art positively impacts both individual and community wellbeing. Incorporating art into own daily life, into our community and into our health care systems will help us all create good health.

10 Ways Art Helps to Create Good Health

(1) Creating and viewing art increases relaxation, enjoyment and inner calm and reduces stress

(2) Art provides individuals a way to express thoughts, feeling and emotions that may be difficult or impossible to communicate

(3) Including art in healthcare settings improves the environment for patients and healthcare staff

(4) Arts improves the quality of life for those with chronic health conditions

(5) Public art creates gathering places in the community, encouraging social connections, reducing isolation and makes community spaces more live-able

(6) Incorporating art in healthcare provides opportunities for artists to develop their practice, grow professionally and contribute to the community

(7) Art is used to educate medical professionals; Analyzing art provides a new way of “seeing” and helps medical students become more skillful at diagnosing patients

(8) Creating and viewing art offers individuals opportunities for social interaction and community involvement, and connections with others is important in good health

(9) Including art in healthcare allows healthcare professionals new tools for diagnosis and improve communication with the patient

(10) Art is used to promote positive health messages and address public health issues

 

 

 

More Information on Art and Health

Society for the Arts in Health Care

Art For health’s Sake: Art Can Provide Healing for the Total Being

The Arts, Health and Well Being – The Arts Council of England

Art and Wellbeing in Rural OZ blog

Art and Public Health

November is Arts and Health Month, a great time to highlight the various ways the arts are used in health care and community settings.  Today I want to share how the arts are used in public health

Public Health

Public health works to promote healthy behavior and respond to health concerns for populations.  Public health addresses health issues at a community level, rather than at the individual level, and focuses on prevention, rather than treatment. For example, public health programs might include developing vaccines, distributing condoms or health education campaigns.

We often think about the science involved in public health, but I believe art is equally important in this field.  We must remember that art is present in all cultures, all communities, art is not something this is an “extra”, instead art is a universal trait of human culture.  In providing public health programs to communities it only makes sense to incorporate art into services.

Piano Stairs

This video of a subway stairway designed to look like piano keys shows of how art shapes how we interact with our environment.  This is also an excellent example of how art can be part of a public health program designed to promote healthy behavior (this was not a public health program).

New Ideas

There is limited research on the role of art in public health.  A few graduate programs are incorporating this topic into curriculums.  The University of Toronto Public health graduate program hosts an annual Art of Public Health conference.

Public health programs have a great opportunity to improve services by incorporating the arts into their work.

What other ways can art be used in public health?  Share your ideas!

More Information

The Use of Art in Medical Health Care

In recent years there has been a growing interest in incorporating the arts in the medical health care field.  Research has shown that the arts decrease stress, improve communication, and help the healing process. With this information, hospitals, medical centers and care facilities are beginning to incorporate visual arts, music, and writing programs into medical care services.  This more integrative model of health care recognizes the connection of body, mind, and spirit.

Though I do not have a background in health care I am always interested in learning more about how art influences well-being and given that November is Art and Health Month I have been reading information on this subject. I thought I would share a few examples of how different art forms are being used in medical care.

Visual Art

With the recognition that art actually helps people feel better and heal more quickly, Sacred Heart Medical Center in Oregon has worked with an arts consultant for hospitals to select artwork intended to be comforting, orienting and calming to patients and, as a result, help promote their healing.

Another example of the use of visual arts is the Art-Cart program in St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital in Houston, Texas, where a rolling gallery of photographic art work makes the rounds, allowing patients to select images for their room.

Music

Eisenhower Medical Center in southern California has had an arts program in place since 2001 and has a staff of nine musicians, four visual artists and a writer.  The Healing Harps program at this medical center offers patients and staff harp lessons.

“Studies and statistical evidence from major hospitals across the country have shown that relief from anxiety, pain, difficult breathing, nausea and depression are often addressed by the use of live harp music, the special timbre of which induces a deep relaxation response which in turn allows the body to heal itself at a more rapid rate.”

– Healing Harps program description.

Writing

Hospitals around the country have writing groups to help patients heal physically and mentally.  US News carried a story about Sutter Health Systems in California offering a range of writing workshops t patients as well as family members and care givers.

Research indicates that after writing exercises the levels of cortisol, a stress-related hormone that may affect immune levels, are lower and studies have shown that writing about trauma improves the health of people with chronic disease.

Use of the arts in health care is steadily moving forward. The small but growing body of research is demonstrating the positive impact art has on health, healing and well-being.  Further research on this subject along with partnerships between art institutions, schools and heal care organizations will allow for more research and greater engagement between the arts and health.

For More Information

Current Research in Evidence-Based Art Programs From American Art Resources
Future of the Arts and Health Care Green Paper

#3 Ways Art is Important to Democracy

As a child in the late 70’s I grew up with episodes of Schoolhouse Rock during Saturday morning cartoons.  Even today I can hum the tune to “I’m Just a Bill”, one of my favorite Schoolhouse Rock films.

As we prepare for mid-term elections I am reminded of this first lesson in civics. I have art to thank for that lesson – the song and animation are both forms of art used to help educate children on civics.

And the more I think about it, the more I realize how important art is in democracy.

Art and Democracy

Art is complex, more than an expression of beauty, art is a fundamental element of human society and a means by which we have expressed and shared ideas for ages. Art is a meaningful form of communication, both personal and public, and as such it is an important medium for democracy

“Art called up a sense of humanity to deepen understanding around persistent social issues of race, economic inequity and identity”
~ from INROADS: The Intersection of Art & Civic Dialogue

On this election eve I want to share 3 ways in which art is important to democracy:

  1. Awareness Art can help to raise public consciousness, illuminate issues and provide us with a way to see, feel or understand the human condition. Art can help us to become more informed and increase our awareness and understanding of complex issues. Creating well informed citizens is important to democracy as it is the citizens who through voting make decisions and shape government.
  2. Voice Art gives a voice to those who are often overlooked or silenced, providing a medium to share ideas and experiences. Art raises voices that may otherwise go unheard. In a democracy all citizens are equal under the law and afforded basic human rights.  As a citizen having knowledge of  the conditions, challenges and concerns of your fellow citizens is important.
  3. ParticipationArt can anger or inspire us, touching us in a way that calls us to action.  Art can also be used to bring people together, including those with differing points of view, allowing us to engage in civic dialogue and better understand differing perspectives. Democracy requires public participation and art can be an effective tool to encourage dialogue and civic engagement.

Creating Change: Thoughts on Art, Connections & Community

After reading this piece “Small Change: Why the Revolution Will Not be Tweeted” I have been thinking about social connections and how important it is to create connections.

My Connections

Through my work in developing SpeakArtLoud I have been fortunate to connect with wonderful people. I find myself routinely amazed each time someone reaches out to me – from short email messages sharing how art made a difference during a difficult time, to ideas or suggestions of resources, and even a few meetings over coffee filled with laughter and stories. I have been honored and humbled by these connections.

“Creative has helped me immensely and I think that I why your organization has stuck with me…  I have reached a point in my life where I want to give back ….”
~excerpt of an email sent to me

Each time someone offers a word of encouragement or shares a personal experience I feel more excited, more passionate and more driven to continue to develop SpeakArtLoud.

Why Connecting is Important

Human as social creatures, even the introverts, myself among them, need to connect with others.  There is all kinds of research on the importance of social connections – social connections and good health, social connections and career and social connections and life span .  In short, having social connections is good for us as individuals.

Having connections, or what those in the community development world call social capital,  is also an important element in healthy communities.  Social capital can be understood as the connections we have with others in our communities, that network is important as it allows individuals to collaborate, cooperate and create community change.

Using Art to Create Connections

SpeakArtLoud recognizes that art is more than an object or a product; Art is also a dynamic interaction. We believe that art can help us to connect with one another on a personal and/or emotional level. Both our art class and our art show are intended to stimulate dialogue, foster cooperation and build social connections.

“The arts can nurture social capital by strengthening friendships, helping communities to understand and celebrate their heritage, and providing a safe way to discuss and solve difficult social problems.”
From – Bettertogether:
The Arts and Social Capital

Our art class, offered to small groups of women with a shared experience, provides a medium for the women to begin to explore their thoughts and feelings about their future.  Using art to explore complex emotions, the participants share their ideas, building a sense of trust among one another and creating a network of supportive social connections.

The community art show also works to create social connections.  By providing members of the community with a reason and a place to gather we create opportunity for both friends and strangers to come together to share in a common experience, a starting place for creating new connections or building upon existing ones.  Beyond this, art can raise issues or stir emotions, allowing for community members to engage in dialogue of some depth or simply to look and listen, gaining insight on such matter.

Connections Are Powerful

As I mentioned earlier, those folks who reached out to me with a kind word or an offer to help have inspired me more than you can imagine. Thank you. That kind of inspiration is powerful, it helps fuel me and it is a force behind social change.

More Reading on Social Connections

The Arts and Social Capital

Happiness is Being Socially Connected

NY City Street Art Trying to Build Social Capital