Thursday, January 30, 2014

Art and a little chocolate

Sunday was the second group of the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience (PPR) Spring Session.  Artists Julia Crawford, Christine Byma and new volunteer, Julie Texteira, prepared a watercolor activity for the women's group.  One woman, Ann, was in attendance and I was invited to join the group.  We started with the feeling movement circle, led by Ms. Crawford, where we each chose a word that we were feeling that day and created a movement that illustrated the word.  I chose the word 'Encouraged' as being involved in the group inspired me personally and solidified the confidence I have in these groups that they can truly make a difference in the lives of those that have experienced trauma.  We put the movements together creating a circular, choreographed dance.  As a dancer myself, I was able to identify with each movement as it expressed all of our innermost feelings.  We then stated the BuildaBridge motto.  Stating the motto as a group gave the words power and at least for me, were the encouraging words needed to conquer the day ahead.

We moved to the long table where blank paper and watercolor paints awaited us.  Ms. Byma showed the group watercolor techniques, which as a dancer, felt out of my comfort zone at first.  She showed us the wet on wet technique - putting water on the paper first, then adding the watercolor paint to that area, created a very fluid spot of color. The second technique was merely the watercolor paint on the paper and then she showed us to add another color to it to create a new color.  The third technique involved turning the paper vertical so water and paint could drip down organically.  My first piece involved the wet on wet technique so all of the circular spots of color I created had soft, blurred edges.  I then used a darker color to create vertical jagged lines down the paper.  I turned my paper vertical and allowed water droplets to organically navigate their way down the jagged lines I just created.  Like a river hitting rocks, bumps and curves, I watched as the water flowed within the loose boundaries I created by paint.  In my life right now, there are particular things over which I have control and for which I've created structure.  But one of the things I learned as I watched the water droplets run down the paper like a river was that there are times when I need to let go of that control, and adapt to the changes occurring.  The droplets from the first sheet landed on a second piece of paper. These droplets then formed the foundation of my second piece (bottom sheet in photo below), creating something new and beautiful out of a bumpy and jagged beginning.  This moment was my art as metaphor for a life lesson.

The others shared their paintings and we discussed as a group what each meant to us as we viewed them.  The group closed with scarf dancing in a circle and stating the BuildaBridge motto again as encouragement for the day.  As I left, I felt calmer, at peace and prepared for the changes in my life.  Creative arts therapy research has shown these therapies to be one of the most effective strategies for alleviating the symptoms of trauma, abuse and stress. 

On my way home, I stopped and bought a piece of chocolate.  The combination of the art-making experience to help me process changes in life and chocolate to decrease the stress hormone cortisol, I felt relaxed, encouraged and at peace.  

This is why BuildaBridge uses art-making experiences with populations who have have experienced trauma.  To read more detail about BuildaBridge's approach and core values, visit the website

-- Danielle Dembrosky Bossert, Refugee Project Manager