July 22, 2015

Tenth International Expressive Arts Association Conference in California in 2013

In the spring of 2013, Dayna Wood, an Expressive Arts Therapist, and I, as a visual artist with experience teaching art in health care settings, were selected from over 140 applicants to co-present at the Tenth Biennial International Expressive Arts Conference in Berkley, California. Dayna and I met through Creative Care, Creative Clay Cultural Arts Center’s arts in healthcare program with which I have been involved as an artist-in-residence for several years. Dayna has moved on to open her own counseling business, Integrative Counsel, in St. Petersburg.

This was my third opportunity to co-present at a conference. The first was at the Barnard College Feminist Art Conference in New York City in 2000 and the second was at The International Design Conference in Sarasota in 2006.

The theme of the 2013 IEATA conference was Expressive Arts in the Winds of Change. Our proposal, “Reaching on the Winds of Change,” addressed the issue of change through the metaphor of sailing:

When a sailboat is traveling perpendicular to the wind, it is called reaching. Reaching is the fastest way to travel. The direction of the wind is ideal because it can maximize the lift generated on the sails, giving the boat its best speed. Also when reaching, the sails can be trimmed and the boat can be steered in the direction that is most desirable.

Valuable questions arise when we look at the current healthcare crisis in the United States. How do we, as healthcare practitioners, learn to “reach” on these gusty winds of change? How can this opportunity to change be best maximized, and how can healthcare workers steer the sails of change in a forward direction with speed and ease? The arts, transformative by nature, can assist in addressing these complex questions. A substantial body of research attests to how art in medical settings are improving healthcare outcomes.

Our learning objectives were threefold:

    1. Participants, with a special emphasis on those who work in healthcare settings, would become more aware, through the arts, of their own thoughts, feelings and biases about change and how they personally interact with change.

    2. They would learn about and participate in an intermodal expressive arts experience.

    3. Participants would “harvest” the art experiential and reflect on lessons learned from navigating change, highlighting how art can assist in the transformation of healthcare settings.

To achieve these objectives the visual art making component of the workshop highlighted the ways in which color relates to change, such as color creates mood: we respond differently to different colors which can be saturated, tinted, toned or shaded. In English there are numerous expressions referencing color such as an individual is “colorful” or another nautical term “pass with flying colors,” which once referenced a ship with flags flying but is now used in recognition of success. In life our goal is to have successful outcomes but often, particularly in a hospital setting, reality tempers expectations.

Participants in our "Reaching on the Winds of Change" presentation altering slides for later projection onto their moving bodies and collages.

Participants in our “Reaching on the Winds of Change” presentation altering slides for later projection onto their moving bodies and collages.

After some ice-breakers to relax and introduce participants who came from around the world to attend the conference, I introduced our first visual art project. While listening to soothing music and in meditative silence, participants scratched and pricked the surface of used slides then glued tissue paper shapes onto the slides, overlapping shapes creating new shapes and colors. How colors influence and change each other is a metaphor for how our life experiences influence and change us. This was illustrated in the next steps: first, participants made collages using tissue paper shapes, layering the transparent colors to create new shapes and colors. While working they were invited to contemplate major changes in their lives and how they had dealt with them.

Completed tissue paper collages arranged by participants. Note the ancient gammadion cross on one of the collages.

Completed tissue paper collages arranged by participants. Note the ancient gammadion cross on one of the collages.

Next came a performative element where participants meandered around a section of the room playing percussive instruments and again thinking about life changes and how they affected them. We encouraged participants to explore, through movement, voice and instruments what arose during the creation of the altered slides and collages.

At the command “freeze” they each took a position that best expressed the specific change they were thinking about such as taking a fetal position, standing tall and straight or ducking, etcetera. The process was repeated for several minutes. Meanwhile, the slides that they had altered were projected onto the alternately moving then freezing-in-place participants and onto their collages, taped to a wall behind the “performance” creating a kaleidoscope of color and movement.

Discussion lead by Dayna and modeled on appreciative inquiry theory followed. Her focus was on how these lessons can be taken into the workplace. Findings from Creative Care’s arts in healthcare program provided an example of how the arts are already altering the hospital culture. Creative Care enables professional artists-in-residence–visual artists, dancers and musicians–to work with patients, family and staff in healthcare settings in St. Petersburg. The Creative Care program addresses the whole person within medical settings and promotes Creative Clay’s mission of making the arts accessible to all.

Dayna and I were delighted by the success of our “Reaching on the Winds of Change” presentation and by the positive response we received from participants.