Q&A: Art Therapy for Community Change
When art therapist Leara Glinzak ATR-BC, MSAT began her community art therapy project The Traveling Loom in 2019, she did not know it would transform into an international project spanning a network of other art therapists.
“I decided the worst-case scenario was that I would be known as the girl with a five-foot loom walking around the city.”
We spoke with Leara about how community-based art therapy can help establish and revive connections within the places we live, and how she became involved in this work.
Leara’s upcoming online workshop, Art Therapy for Community Change, will be taking place on Saturday, September 25th from 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
How did you get started in this work?
I first learned about art therapy at a college fair. I knew I was interested in a helping profession and integrating art, so art therapy seemed like the right fit. While attending Seton Hill University for my undergrad in art therapy, I took a course, Art for Community Change. There, I had hands-on experience developing a relationship with the community, and saw the benefit of having arts and an art therapist present for this experience.
While in private practice and leading art therapy groups in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the same theme arose in my groups across various neighborhoods—that people were segregated. When I inquired why people tend to stay in their neighborhoods, people expressed they felt they wouldn’t be included in other neighborhoods because of socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, race, etc. I felt my role as an art therapist was calling me to respond to the lack of community and unity. This triggered my involvement in integrating a community-based art therapy model into my practice.
The Traveling Loom, your community art project, traveled the country in collaboration with other art therapists. Can you share how the idea of this came about, and a little about the project itself?
When I started The Traveling Loom, I attempted to connect with businesses and agencies to bring the project to their organization, and found little support. I decided the worst-case scenario was that I would be known as the girl with a five-foot loom walking around the city, just trying to do some good while staying in my scope of practice, and I felt there could be worse things.
After I started posting on social media, art therapists started following me and this project. Art therapists began asking if they could do something similar, and I thought “Why not expand this project and work together?”. I did a call to action for art therapists nationally and internationally, and organized a larger Traveling Loom project. The goal was to bring a framework model and to encourage art therapists to use the materials, language, and imagery that resonate with the culture they were practicing in, and to see how people responded to the same process across cultures.
Therefore, this became an international project. This of all occurred right before the pandemic, so it has been on pause, and I am ready to pick it up where we left off once it is safe to proceed!
Your upcoming training surrounds using community art therapy as a means to address a community’s needs, decrease stigma and exclusion, and act as an anti-oppressive way to facilitate healing in marginalized communities. After a year of isolation, a global pandemic, and social/political unrest throughout the country, what are some ways that art therapy can help people re-establish connections and find common ground within their community?
With the turmoil, depth of trauma, and impact on mental health, art therapy can help bridge communities by creating a space for common ground and connection. Also, as we know after experiencing trauma, we may not be able to talk about our experiences, and art therapy is a safe space to process traumatic experiences.
Community-based art therapy can also provide mental health services to marginalized populations who have a lack of resources. For example, with The Traveling Loom, connection occurred because people responded to one another’s messages by receiving the messages in the loom, and writing a message in return. When a situation arose where that person needed a therapist for support and validation, I was there to provide that service. We know art is a door to vulnerability, and it is our responsibility to respond appropriately. Furthermore, during this project I also had a list of resources for participants, so if I assessed that more services are needed I could suggest specific resources.
The artist Ai Wei Wei once said, “Everything is Art. Everything is Politics.” What are your feelings on community art therapy as a form of activism?
I believe community art therapy can be a form of activism and social change. Of course I can only speak for my intention with The Traveling Loom as a community-based art therapy model, but the hope and intention is that it changes the way people are connecting, transforms human and cultural interactions, fostesr more positive relationships, challenges social constructs, and creates positive impacts on society.
Saturday, September 25, 2021, 10 a.m.- 3 p.m., Online | 5 CEUs