Saturday, February 21, 2015

Metaphor in Art-Making: Making old things new

Art as metaphor is a powerful tool in sharing life lessons.  Woven through the art-making projects, BuildaBridge artists working with refugee populations understand the difficult transition group participants bring to a class session.  Each mistake, and each difficulty, in the art-making process can become an opportunity to teach a skill or encourage positive reflection on life's challenges. The BuildaBridge Souderton Refugee Group of Central and East African refugee populations is no exception.  Weaving is a cultural tradition in Africa.  Though these Souderton participants are not all artisans, there is a potential natural and cultural connection for them.

Gathered around a table the group of 8 women, men and children look intently at a sample quilt made of pieces of fabric--strips of old t-shirts and various kinds of yarn--that had been braided, tied, and sewn together to form a cultural identity tree. This will be their project for the next six weeks.  They will complete a unique quilt that represents them and helps build on a theme of community.

The first step for this project was to weave blossoms that will soon be part of their community tree. It didn't go well for everyone--an opportunity for teaching skills and life lessons.
Natalie, a creative art therapist, and her assistants, Liz and Clarisse, helped to teach the eight participants how to begin weaving their blossoms from yarn.  One of the young girls, Roxanne, was struggling to weave her blossom.  Natalie proceeded to help her correct the pattern, while providing a life metaphor in the conversation. 
"This project is a lot like life." Natalie encouraged Roxanne.
“It’s much harder when you first start something, but when you get used to it, it gets easier.” 

While the participants will continue to weave their quilt and learn skills such as weaving with a loom and quilt making, Natalie is teaching much more through this project.  She will convey another, overarching metaphor--the importance of making something new and beautiful out of old pieces, each one finding restoration and building community support.  She emphasizes the importance of making a contribution towards their group effort that will last the next six weeks, and also the importance of contributing in their new and developing communities. This collaborative piece promotes unity in the group.  Patience will be necessary to learn new art skills as well as to wait for the project to be completed. 

Was it an effective lesson?  Was community developing?  Yes, as it led the group into something that happened spontaneously.

As part of the closing ritual, Liz accompanied a favorite song with her guitar and Amelia joined with her keyboard.  The song "Goodbye, Goodbye, Goodbye, See you next time" was repeated over and over again in a repetitive style common to African singing.  The voices of all of the participants sang in a strong unison.  Then it happened.  Some participants started dancing as they sang and soon the entire group was dancing. We all broke out in song and dance together as a group and it was powerful.  We left the room feeling energized. 

See the photos of the group here.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Creating Trusting Relationships Through Art-Making

When the group of refugees and immigrants started arriving, we greeted them at the threshold with warm smiles.  I was unsure of what to expect my first time in a live session beyond the BuildaBridge training and team meetings we had prior to the beginning of the term.

Sunday February 8th marked the second meeting of the Philadelphia Partnership for Resilience (PPR) group of 2015. Our team consisted of Rebecca Asch, Francesca Montanile and myself.  We had arrived early to set up the room with art supplies.

Being that this is my first internship in a therapeutic arts setting,  I knew that we'd be creating art with participants, but how would that look, I wondered. What aspects of this PPR session would prove most useful in aiding people who had been displaced from their homes and experienced torture?  My questions were soon answered.

It was the second time this group had met.  It had grown, I was told.  Moore, a regular member of the group from the Middle East, dawned a large smile at the room full of people, ready to create, share and participate. His eagerness was matched by David, a West African man, who entered the room brimming with excitement--shaking my hand enthusiastically.  David and I had met at the first session. Both Moore and David then greeted each other which demonstrated an outcome for this group to create trusting relationships in a safe and supportive environment.

During the session Dee, a young newcomer from Haiti, reported that he could not draw a scene that represents his past, present and future. Rebecca, a teaching artist, then drew a stick figure on a piece of paper, shows it to him, and with encouragement says, "This is okay!"

David, the drummer, then engaged Dee to comfort his worries about his art-making skills.
Watching this, I couldn't help but think about the role of art-making in creating a sense of community.  PPR sessions bring together people in their time of need to provide art-making experiences which are then shared and discussed and provide reasons to bond and create new friendships with others who understand similar struggles and successes.  Moore was excited to see many other people in the group because this is what the group is about - connecting people who can be supportive of one another through art-making and dialogue.

- Emily Kimmelman, BuildaBridge Intern and Artist-on-Call

Friday, February 6, 2015

What's in a name?

S. wakes up every Sunday saying that it's the day for her art class. She looks forward to attending because her teacher knows her name and calls on her by name to lead dance movements.  S. had perfect attendance during the Fall of 2014 because BuildaBridge's art class made her feel important and valued.  

Julia Crawford, lead therapeutic movement instructor, greeting a child at the threshold

S. is one of 51.2 million displaced persons in the world today.  According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, this is the highest number since World World II and equivalent to the 26th largest nation on earth.

To S., the fact that her teacher knows her name is a huge reason why she attends BuildaBridge's art class.  Artists, teachers and creative arts therapists are trained in BuildaBridge's Classroom Model, a trauma-informed, hope-infused, child/client-centered approach that facilitates hope, healing and resiliency among populations experiencing crisis and poverty.  A large component of the trauma-informed method is affirmation of the individual, the culture from where they came and recognition of their abilities towards a hopeful future.  Artists learn each child's name as part of this affirmation process and call the child by name when welcoming them across the threshold, throughout the course of the class and when the child is leaving.   Learning one's name is the first step towards affirmation of the individual, becoming aware of their situation and taking action to make a difference.

BuildaBridge has taken that first step and gone beyond in providing programming as part of its Refugee Project serving 300 refugees, immigrants and survivors of torture  since 2011.

Imagine if we learned the names of all 51.2 million displaced persons in the world - we would be one step closer towards a brighter future for everyone.

To learn more about the conflicts that have caused displacement and how many have been displaced, check out the United Nations' The Refugee Project - an interactive map of refugee migrations around the world in each year since 1975. United Nations data is complemented by original histories of the major refugee crises of the last four decades, situated in their individual contexts.