Art as a Tool for Healing

by Courtney Cerniglia

I often get pensive in November; these feelings of gratitude and thankfulness seem more apparent. Contemplating all that I have in security, health, family, and friends, I feel blessed. It also makes me humble and it becomes easier to recognize others may not be as fortunate, which inspires me to support them.

Tim Mayer, founder of Artists for the Humanities (A4TH), doesn’t need to be reminded to help those in need. His organization, A4TH, serves disadvantaged populations in our community through art-based programs and partnerships.

Tim describes the basis of the organization’s work. “Our standard program uses picture-making as a form of visual storytelling to helps people overcome obstacles and challenges in their lives.”

Disadvantaged families in our area are even more at risk with the pressures of COVID-19. A4TH partnered with the Salvation Army of the Fox Cities this fall to expand their reach and provide ongoing programming.

“We’re very excited and grateful to partner with A4TH. Tim and his organization bring a unique program to the Salvation Army of the Fox Cities that we haven’t had prior. The uniqueness comes from the use of expressive art that encourages clients to work on emotions they experience through trialing situations such as abuse, homelessness, trafficking, addiction. The program gives participants another place to succeed and lead to long term success,” says Kristal Knudtson, the Director of Development and Communication at the Salvation Army of the Fox Cities.

The programs start with basic supplies of construction paper, crayons, pencils, markers, and charcoal. Participants are encouraged to use art to tell the story of what led them to their current situation. During these sessions, Tim is accompanied by therapists, social workers, or life coaches. Together they encourage conversation and guide participants through expanded self-discovery needed for healing, recovery, and progress.

Much of the program focuses on building the participant’s sense of confidence. When people feel supported, they are better equipped to make good life choices. Through the sessions, Tim and his co-instructors seek to help people learn positive coping skills so they can live more productive lives.  

“It is often difficult to put into words what all is going on,” says Tim. “Often there are abstract ideas that are more suitable to be put down on paper first. Then, with the support of a safe environment, more concrete stories, emotions, and ideas appear as a result of that process. We see color and shapes before we learn how to speak. This is a basic way to better express what one may be going through and find the words to seek peace.”

The simplicity of the materials used for the artmaking complement this journey as well. I’m reminded of grade school, when I found so much joy in a blank piece of paper and a box of crayons.  

“There is beauty in every person. Even in those who may be struggling, there is dignity. I want all people to see themselves as dignified. When we feel good and respect ourselves, we can love ourselves.”


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