Volunteers, people with disabilities connect over art therapy projects
Published: Monday, October 1, 2012
Updated: Monday, October 1, 2012 22:10
University students volunteered for the Center for Disabilities Studies working alongside people with disabilities and making artwork Sept. 22 as volunteers for the Center for Disabilities Studies annual Artfest, held at the Kaleidoscope Art Studio in Wilmington.
Led by executive director and founder of Art Therapy Express, Lisa Bartoli, Artfest allows participants to make artwork that will be featured in the CDS annual calendar report. Volunteers are typically students within the Disabilities Studies minor or members of the National Student Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
Bartoli says Artfest was a success, with a record-high number of participants and volunteers. She says it was a fun filled morning of creation, and that it was wonderful to have the university students as support again.
Senior Allyson Szecsi says she first heard about Artfest her freshman year through her membership in NSSLHA, and her positive experiences have kept her going back every year since.
“It’s so rewarding, you get to work with such a range of abilities and disabilities with all the participants, so there’s really somebody for everybody,” Szecsi says. “You always make that connection with somebody.”
Bartoli says she agrees that Artfest is “one of the biggest win-wins, because everyone involved forges human connections.”
“The participants bring just as much joy to the people who volunteer as the volunteers bring to them,” Bartoli says. “And isn’t that what everybody wants in life, to connect? I think we see that, there’s just so much joy on both ends.”
Artfest has been steadily growing in popularity since its inception six years ago. Michele Sands, communications specialist at CDS, says the attendance at Artfest has skyrocketed this year particularly, with roughly 30 volunteers and 25 participants.
“We have people who love to come back year after year, which is great,” she says. “But it’s also nice to open it up to people who haven’t participated before.”
Sands says Artfest gives students a hands on opportunity while simultaneously allowing participants with disabilities to have fun experimenting with artistic self-expression.
She says the CDS is primarily concerned with ensuring that students training to enter the disabilities fields are well equipped with understanding.
“We’re very focused on developing the future of people who work in disabilities fields to get a greater awareness of what it is to include people with disabilities,” Sands says.
Art therapy itself as a field has grown in popularity alongside Artfest’s increasing attraction of interest. Diane Crossan, an art instructor at Children’s Campus at the Laboratory Preschool and the College School, says she sees expressive arts therapy to be an emerging field steadily gaining acceptance.
Crossan says the therapy is generally divided into two categories—the process and the product. She says that the therapeutic art-making process combined with symbolic art allows the artists to effectively communicate.
“Art therapy potentially has huge benefits for children and adults who may struggle or need support with traditional means of communication,” Crossan says.
This surge in art therapy interest may be attributed to the connection between psychology and art becoming more prominent.
Sophomore Megan Fortman, an art and psychology double major says the idea of pursuing a career in art therapy really stemmed from her love of both aspects of the field.
“I’ve always loved to paint, but it’s the idea of using something I love to help others that enchants me,” she says.
Fortman says the benefit of art therapy for those with disabilities is that is provides an outlet for creative expression.
“Working creatively can help reduce or manage stress or reveal underlying emotions or conflicts,” Fortman says. “It can be utilized for clients that aren’t as verbally expressive.”
Bartoli says art therapy offers non-verbal expression, unlike traditional therapy.
“People can be guarded with their words,” Bartoli says. “But in art therapy it’s the unconscious that’s coming forward. It can sometimes get more at what the underlying what the reality of a situation is.”
Another aspect of art therapy is that it is a “concrete form of expression,” so a person’s healing process can be seen through their artwork, akin to a “map of the treatment,” Bartoli says.
The CDS approached Art Therapy Express to form a connection between the two, Bartoli says. She says she was thrilled when Sands reached out to her, and was pleased to see that CDS, too, valued the artwork and self-expression.
Sands says that Artfest, while certainly therapeutic, is also a way to allow for the inclusiveness CDS strives for.
“Artfest really shows what [CDS] is all about,” she said. “We’re trying to include people with disabilities in activities that they might not have the opportunity to participate in otherwise. We’re here to make sure they have the same rights and opportunities as everybody else.”
The Artfest workshop allows all participants to get involved in the art making process, regardless of their abilities with adaptive technologies like wheelchair paint rollers that Bartoli says work with “whatever motion [participants] have.”
“Lisa is so happy all the time, she’s the most bubbly persona and it carries through to everyone else that’s there. There’s just this kind of bliss,” Szecsi said. “You can definitely see the confidence at the end of the day, everyone’s so proud to show what they’ve accomplished.”
Crossan says Bartoli’s Art Therapy Express integrates all people together through artistic opportunities, allowing an increased understanding and respect among participants.
“Whenever possible I try to bring together children and adults with and without disabilities to work together,” Bartoli says. “I think it makes all of our lives richer.”