Art Heals the Heart: Community, Hope, and Healing

Art Heals the Heart | BCAC

by Lindy L. Olson

BRIGHTON, CO (February 9, 2024) – Approximately 70 residents of Brighton and surrounding areas gathered at the Alli Event Center for a hands-on art therapy experience celebrating the themes of community, hope, and healing. Sponsored by Brighton Cultural Arts Commission (BCAC), the event kicked off the BCAC 2024 #PassportToArts program.

Guest speaker Erika Molina Poling, LPC, ATR, MA, art therapist and owner of Story Within: Art Therapy and Counseling, briefly discussed the mental health benefits of artistic expression, explaining that empirical evidence and years of studies have shown that artistic expression can decrease one’s perception of pain while improving memory and expanding neural connections.

Poling further explained, “There is a movement, started over two decades ago that has been gaining traction called ‘Arts on Prescription,’ where doctors across the globe are legitimately prescribing art (making it, viewing it, hearing it) as part of treatment for chronic mental and physiological conditions.”

Poling then reminded everyone that art doesn’t always have to be “Art with a capital A,” and it doesn’t have to be made with the intention of hanging it in a gallery somewhere. “The power of art therapy is in experiencing it and in making it,” she pointed out. 

She began the experiential portion of the evening by inviting participants to think of a community they belong to, for example:

  •     a community of artists, teachers, or truck drivers (or any occupation)
  •     a community with a shared cultural heritage, faith, or identity expression
  •     a community of motherhood, fatherhood, sisterhood, or brotherhood
  •     a community of survivorship or resilience against shared adversity
  •     any community united by a common cause or goal, etc.

Then Poling asked everyone to think about what hope looks like for them, how hope feels in their bodies, and where they go to find hope when they need it (for example, in nature or with friends).

“I want you to create an image with a message of hope, solidarity, and connection,” she said, “to whatever fellow community you feel like you’re a part of.”

Participants, who represented a wide range of ages and occupations, then set to work creating their own 6” x 6” squares with personalized images and words of hope. Some used markers or pens, while others cut out images from magazines and glued them to their squares to make collages. The 90 minutes of artistic creation went very quickly, but the results proved motivating, inspiring, and encouraging.

Natalie, a local artist and poet, created a piece that included the words “find ourselves together.” She described her 6” x 6” creation like this: “Oftentimes in art, you are working alone. And so, my need for connection and community has been kind of brought to the forefront of my brain since COVID…so this is all about finding ourselves together and the magic that comes with community and friendship.”

Members of the BCAC later assembled all the squares into what they are calling the Art Heals the Heart Community Quilt. The quilt will be on display at The Armory Performing Arts Center in Brighton until July 16th, 2024, when it will move to the Anythink Library in Brighton.

The Art Heals the Heart event was free to the public, thanks to funding from the Scientific and Cultural Facilities District (SCFD) and the Brighton Creative Community (Lodging Tax) grant. To view more participants’ responses to the experience, as well as a video overview of the event, please visit the BCAC YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC0JqvD-QeHctaEyj6oONekg

To connect with Erika Molina Poling and learn more about her art therapy practice, you can email her at erika@createyourstorywithin.com.

Visit brightonculturalarts.org for information about upcoming events. 

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