Announcing the Sara and Bob LeBien Arts-based Wellness Pilot Program

Photo by Kevin Montague

This year, our education department is launching the Sara and Bob LeBien Arts-based Wellness Pilot Program, which will connect children who have suffered from neglect or abuse with the healing and educational power of art. As part of this program, our education department staff will expand to include a certified art therapist.

About the Program:
Guided by an art therapist, children who have suffered from abuse or neglect will make art and look at works from the Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection in the Learning Lab and galleries. They will be immersed in the creative process for self-expression, stress reduction, healing, and learning. The children’s studio work will be connected to experiences in the galleries for opportunities to validate the child’s expressions, emotions, and self-efficacy. Gallery and studio experiences will help the child form positive bonds with other children, the art therapist, and the cultures, artists, and ideas represented in the galleries.

Photo by Kevin Montague

Why Art Therapy? Why at the Museum?
Making art is natural for children. Expressing through art mediums, like drawing, painting, or forming clay, is an accessible form of communication for children that is easier than spoken language. Artmaking fosters emotional development that bolsters cognitive, social, and physical advancement. For children who have suffered trauma, it is a powerful tool for expressing emotions or sharing experiences that may be difficult to articulate with words. If left unexpressed, these emotions and experiences can become a major barrier for overall educational development. For example, being mad or sad is not always easy to describe with words, but a child can put these emotions into a drawing, which can be the starting point for communication and healing. This reflective and expressive process leads the child to a better understanding of her/his feelings and thoughts.

Cognitive, social, and physical development also emerge when children experience the arts. Artmaking advances the development of motor skills, hand-eye coordination, and muscle control. Through artmaking, children naturally encounter cognitive complexities, such as cause and effect, or imagined and real. In their interaction with the arts, children have to make choices that have visual consequences, which, in connection with their body’s actions, is a highly efficient route to learning new concepts. Through talking about works of art, children learn critical thinking and looking skills; build vocabulary; and discover ways to reason in evidence, ask questions, and seek answers.

Photo by Kevin Montague

These kinds of complex thinking experiences, which connect the mind with the body’s senses, positively impact the brain’s neural connections. Conversely, research suggests that experiencing trauma has significant negative impacts on neural connections for children. For example, the number of times a child experiences the flight or fright release of chemicals directly impacts their wiring for learning, essentially weakening the structure upon which all learning relies. Experiences with the arts require problem-solving and brain activity that build a stronger physical learning structure. Studies show that both artmaking and looking at art reduce the stress hormone cortisol, and they can also increase endorphins, which combat the ill effects of stress. By pairing our newly renovated museum galleries and new education center with the practices of art therapy we can study the impact of a museum-based art therapy program for children. We think this has potential to change children’s lives, both directly through our program, but also as a model for other art museums.

I most sincerely thank Bob LeBien for his gift to pilot this program. If you are interested in learning more or would like to help support this program, please contact me at hdavis2@iu.edu.

Heidi Davis-Soylu
Lucienne M. Glaubinger Director of Education

This article was originally printed in the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art’s magazine. If you would like to receive print copies of our magazine, sign up for our mailing list HERE.

IU Eskenazi Museum of Art Website

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