Archive for the ‘The Arts’ Category





In January of this year, I went as part of a 10 person team of Arts based therapists from the States  to work with a 7 person leadership team of East Africans meeting in Kenya with the Global Alliance for Africa (GAA) Therapeutic Arts program(TAP). The East Africans came not only from Kenya but Uganda and Tanzania as well. TAP has been working in East Africa for the last 11 years and this years trip was done in a new way, by having those who were identified as Leaders from previous trips in the growing uses of arts based therapy in their regions.

I was a day late in arriving due to frigid cold weather in the eastern coast of the US that backed up all travel for days. I was lucky in that I was only a day late.

Included in the East African group were professional artists, theatre activists, dancers, storytellers, teachers and councilors. Included in the US team were art therapists, expressive arts therapists, Drama therapists, art and expressive therapy students.


Meeting in small groups

The overall training was co-facilitated by Cathy Moon ATR-BC (who is the Chair of the art therapy program at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago) and Tally Tripp ATR-BC (professor at George Washington University) with the rest of the US based as adjuncts in the process.

So much was covered!  While I missed a bit, including the important sociometry at the beginning, it was not hard to fall into rhythm with others as we were very happy to connect. From basic counseling skills, to integrating art making and drama into counseling,   and education (many of the East Africans work in schools or after school programs) recognizing and working with trauma to artistic skill sharings including Playback Theatre, Touch Drawing, Theatre games, Singing, Dancing, Basket weaving and paper folding creating dolls, journals, boxes.  Each day we met from 8:30 to 3 integrating

Melissa teaching basketweaving

Learning to create Baskets

material didactically, experientially and looking deeply at how to bring the arts into schools, orphanages and art therapy workshop settings. Then from 4:30-6 for Skill sharing.

We also were able to sight see-  Two of the East African participants are internationally recognized  professional artists  who work out of their home. They offer art therapy to the local children and families many of whom work in the flower industry. One of the issues facing families who work in the Dutch owned industry are higher than normal Cancer rates, and fatalities due to chemicals that are used to preserve flowers so that when they arrive in Europe they look “Fresh”.  Street children are often orphaned, cared for by other family members or friends.  Certainly has made me much more observant and thoughtful around where my flowers come from.


At the art therapy studio of the Wadus

When we were there at their studio, their adult son was finishing an art therapy session with about 30 children.They were excited and happy to show us their work they had done that day, belying the more intense struggles they experience at home. From there we went to Lake Naivasha. While we were there a number of us took a boat cruise and saw hundreds of birds, Hippos, Zebras. The land adjacent to the lake is where “Elsa” The lioness of the 1960’s film, “Born Free” was released into the wild. Our program coordinator Linda Stolz (who worked tirelessly on our behalf day and often night) wanted to get Crayfish for dinner that night but wasn’t able as the Crayfish had been all bought out from the lake by Chinese corporations. Then ensued my education on what was happening in the entire African continent  based on Chinese corporations buying into  and building the infrastructure. Deeply disturbing and powerful. Kenyans had lived from eating Crayfish from the Lake for centuries and now have none. For more information about this go to: https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/china-africa

We also went to an amazing glass blowing studio  (and later stayed at a Treehouse B&B that had integrated into everywhere blown and stained glass)and a library that Global Alliance of Africa is supporting in Kibera- Kenyas largest slum area.  Going to Kibera was a deep conversation. One of the things we, as US participants wanted to be clear on and careful of was why and how we would go into the slum areas. In fact, two East African participants did not want us to go in. Kibera had a tremendous amount of violence during the elections of 2009  and again last August.(For more information on this, go to: https://www.the-star.co.ke/news/2017/08/12/photos-gunshots-in-kibera-mathare-as-cops-disperse-post-election_c1615333)  Hard feelings are still had around this.

DSC07143We also went to the National Art Museum. The two  artists who were participants, Eunice and Sane Wadu, whose home we had gone to, had paintings in a show there. The museum was wonderful and I leaned much about the work of Joy Adamson who is deeply revered as a conservationist. She was also a fabulous watercolorist as well.

We ended our training on Wednesday evening, closing our circle and saying our goodbyes to the East Africans. On Thursday morning the US participants went by train to Watamu along the Indian Ocean coast. This was where we were to process our time together and think around next steps- all while staying in an amazing guesthouse that was built like a tree house. As there were no windows and basically no doors, we were outside the whole time. Let’s just say we had often close encounters with Monkeys. We were not allowed to keep any food at all, but one monkey thought my wipes were interesting and came in my room and grabbed them.

My last two days were spent with my niece, Stephanie and her husband Andrew OngukaDSC07432 and their three boys in Nairobi. Stephanie is a physician and Andrew a minister and together they have developed a scholarship program for those academically  talented from the Mathare slum areas. As well they work with their families. As well, while I was there, Andrew was busy meeting with people and trying to figure out better ways people could water their cows. They are doing much good work. I was able to meet one of their graduates who is waiting to go to college next year. They are doing amazing work together. See for yourself! (.http://www.onelifeafrica.org/ )

While I did not intentionally go on safari, Kenya being what it is,  I was able to enjoy an abundance of wildlife including Giraffes, Baboons, Monkeys, warthogs, Elephants and a huge array of birds, as were driving throughout my stay. It was in a nut shell an amazing trip with a lovely group of people. If you have a chance to go, I think a wonderful and deepening experience.


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In February, 2o16 I traveled back to India, stopping over in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates  first, to be part of the First Arts Conference at the University of Sharjah, which is outside Dubai.  Organized by the Prasad Foundation of Oakton Virginia,(which sponsored my and others travel and participation), George Washington University, the University of Mississippi, and ATIC  (Art Therapy International Centre) and the University of Sharjah.  Presenters included art therapists from the UAE, USA, and music therapists from South Korea. I presented on the use of Playback Theatre and drama therapy to support communication in difficult times.  In the next few blogs I will post some pictures to try to convey some of the experience of being in these interestingly cultural diverse countries. While Ive been back a month now, I find that the trip still rolls deeply in me and I continue to process.  Below are a few pictures to describe my experience of being there.




DSC03684Near the university there were many gardens- An oasis in the middle of the desert.    The flowers were beautiful. The university itself is beautiful, and  well kept.







Another view of gardens.








DSC03659Over 200 people attended this first event. It was both wonderful and heartwarming as the need and desire is clear to have more of this kind of training made available. Fortunately the university appears to agree.



Dress varied from western style (long sleeve and skirt or pants) to Arabic and full Burqa for women.


Two men talking at the Medical School



I really love the architecture of the UAE. DSC03664



DSC03726Not the most elegant picture, but I saw an awful lot of sand.


On our tour to the Humanitarian Centre, A  playground using all recycled materials! Hyun Ju checked it out.





DSC03685Evening time in Dubai.  Sunrises and sunsets were clear, and pure,  making great contrast between light and dark.

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A few weeks ago, I was at the 45th annual conference of the American Art Therapy Association(AATA). We met this year in San Antonio Texas. It was my first real trip to Texas. (Previous trips include traveling through the Dallas airport. I never left it, so I’m not sure that really counts.) I was interested in seeing what Texas was like. Coming from the north (and I am truly a northerner, as well as a staunch New Englander), I was interested in seeing the architecture, and learning about the area. I wasn’t disappointed. I was there, in part, to take part in a book signing for our new book, Using Art Therapy in Diverse Populations: Crossing Cultures and Abilities (Jessica Kingsley Press, 2013).

In the first day welcoming Plenary, a video was presented about art therapy and San Antonio. No where in the video, created by a wonderful and creative art therapist, was there mention of the Native roots of the area. There were horses, and the Lone Ranger made it into the video, and many wonderful concepts about our artistic roots, but some how the Native roots of our land were omitted, as were Native stories of the land; this was disturbing to me. One of the highlights of the conference was actually being able to sit with Grandmother Emma, an Apache storyteller and Elder. She had come to present a workshop at the conference, and at the last moment (or at least after the program was printed) was included in the second day plenary; she was asked to offer a blessing for the conference. Sadly, this wasn’t announced in any way prior to the second day, so the audience was small for most of her blessing. People came in at the end mainly to see the keynote address. I was aware again, of the ways in which we slight people, and communities. 

After her blessing, and at the beginning of the plenary, I decided to go out for tea and saw her sitting by herself. I went over to greet her and thank her coming to the conference, and I found out that she was on her own until her workshop. So I invited her to tea with me. What ensued was a wonderful hour and a half of conversation about her past and being Native in Texas. She told stories about her relationship to the land and the challenges she faces ( she is raising her great grandson right now). We spoke about how our children often do not realize the importance of maintaining ties to the old ways, nor the reality of what happens when stories are not told. Telling stories is what keep us connected to ourselves, and our past, present, and future. Without stories we forget. As I sat with Grandmother Emma, once again I realized how important it is to keep our story alive.

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This week we went to see Cirque Zuma Zuma – an amazing African circus troupe representing many countries in Africa – perform at our local theatre.  Michael and I had to sit a row apart. I was sitting next to a cluster of UVM students who were out for the evening – one young man wearing a tie and four women all dressed for an evening out. (The show was co-sponsored by the UVM Diversity committee) All of the students were on their cell phones, texting. They were occasionally talking. Clearly they were engaged both with each other and their cell phones. It was impressive.

The last few weeks have been very intense on many levels. Soon after journeying home from Hong Kong  and India (you can read a lot about our trip on Michael’s blog Dreaming the World) and finishing our jet lag, things began rocking literally in Boston. As I am from Boston ( my grandparents lived 2 blocks away from  the area where the explosions hit at the finish line of the marathon- my father and stepmother, 3 blocks away) this really did hit home for me. This area was my stomping ground. The Boston Public Library, just across the street, was my library of choice- The BPL was right across from the explosions. As well, one of my sons is an art student at college in Boston. (more…)

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Coming back from a 6 week trip is a lot to unpack from, emotionally and physically. Today as I sit at my desk back at home, watching the snow fly outside my office window, I am thinking a lot about all the connections, places, people and events of all kinds that have happened in the last month and a half. I am aware that in being back in quiet Vermont, I miss the rich social connections that exist in Asia.

There have been many threads of conversations on this trip that have entered and been woven through most if not all the trainings.  I think the largest conversation was about gender issues, sparked  in part by the killing of a 23 year old physiology student in Delhi last November. What it did do was provide the  overdue and much needed catalyst for a world wide protest(one billion rising was born in the midst of the initial protests) and demonstration for Women’s rights and for holding all accountable for the ways in which women are not equal -in pay, work and social stature and safe from constant harassment and violence-domestic and otherwise. This theme was a constant- In all the trainings in both countries. In the process of teaching technique and form, we told stories, created art that looked at and witnessed the deep needs of both men and women, and allowed women the much needed space to state what it is that they need from their relationships, and their lives. What was palpable and important for me was the fact that while I was visiting another culture, there were so many similarities for us. The trainings were made richer by this as well as understanding the differences within our countries. In one session,  during the Introduction to Art Therapy training through the  East/West Center for Counselling, the women in my group, after  seeing an intense documentary of women’s rights (or the lack of them) in India,  pounded, cajoled and nurtured the clay as a group creating stunning art and talking about what their needs were, what they wanted for their lives, and in what ways they could go after their dreams.

Other discussions were just as important. Climate change is on the list of high concern. Water shortages are everywhere. People are terrified by the prospects, and trying to make sense of it in real terms.   Having enough water and being able to survive climate change is on the high priority list no matter which gender you are. Clinicians are aware of  all of this.  Right now clinicians, teachers, artists and others are all trying to find the right kind of tools to support people, to support themselves and to find a better way to approach being in our bitter and often challenging world. The tools themselves can be challenging to understand  for cultural or other reasons. Helping people become grounded is the key in my work- To understand how to help others, one has to help themselves first. Diving down and deep, while at the same time creating an important toolkit to take to others supports this process. Teaching in an experiential  way that makes sense, and makes the most impact is the basis of my style.

In Hong Kong, through the Arts for the Disabled Association, the focus of the workshop centered around providing expressive arts to those with disabilities.  My first question to those who participated was:  How does one define disability? What does this really mean? How are we impacted or not by disability in our lives? Our culture?  Climate change, gender disparity all entered the conversations. Cultural issues around caring for aging parents was also part of the deeper conversations.Before we could go further and talk about ways to approach working with those with disabilities, we had to break down the commonly held constructs of how we think about disability to begin with. For many this was a eye opening experience. Grounding the conversation with role plays, Playback Theatre, Art s based therapeutic techniques, students chewed on this over the week. They also experienced understanding stepping into the shoes of one with “disability”, painting with blindfolds, creating adapting tools to work with, exploring using these tools first for themselves and then to be able to translate it for using in their work.

There is a lot to work through.  In the end, I hope that somehow, people feel empowered in India and Hong Kong with enough tools to keep going.

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Since I last wrote, we have been traveling and working in chennai, India and Hong Kong. I taught 4 workshops or trainings in India, while Michael taught 2 and presented two other shorter presentations at the Aparreo Galleries in Chennai. Its been amazing, often intense, complex and very often very rewarding. Michael has been great about writing regularly- I not so much, as at the end of the day, I am tired enough that my brain can not organize thoughts to write. To see Michael’s blogs go to Dreaming the world  to see about our trip from his perspective.


We are taking a much needed few days off to rest up for our long trip and intense time change back home. While we are doing that, we are processing all from the trainings ( 2 3 half day trainings with college students at Ethiraj College and Madras School of Social Work) a 5 day core training in Playback Theatre and a 5 day Introduction to Art therapy as part of the Expressive therapies certificate program – a collaboration between the East West Center for Counseling and Women’s Christian College. Then in Hong Kong, a 5 day workshop on using the Expressive arts with people with Disabilities.DSCF4856



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I’ve been working on developing my workshops in India and Hong Kong. I realize that offering these workshops is an interesting experience. Of being obviously a professional- knowledgeable and all that- but more importantly I  have started to think of myself as a  door woman.  I happily open the metaphorical  door for others to walk through. I just do it by offering a new way of thinking about understanding themselves.  Not only think, but do. One of my greatest joys actually is watching students encounter themselves through the world of art, dance, music and the written word. And by doing that, in some way they have helped themselves make sense of their world and their role within it. There can be and is joy in these awakenings and understandings.

Expressive Therapy Workshop

Expressive Therapy Workshop

On this trip, part of our work is to be present with the topic of disabilities. Actually, this topic comes up quite regularly in my work. On this trip, I am hoping to turn the concept of disability a bit on its head.  What makes a person disabled? what is the role of the support person?  How can we reframe what we think when we hear about someone with a disability?  Why is this important that we do? So often we over look people who have a disability, as “not abled” Instead they are very abled and have very definitive thoughts  and feelings about this.

My research has led me to new thinking and new territory. My own role as a person with a disability (which I have spent a goodly portion of my life attempting to ignore) has been one of mixed messages and experiences EXCEPT in the area of creating art. For me it has been a deep blessing in which the ability to create art has supported me in gaining clarity and understanding of myself as a person with value and a person with ability.

So, I take what I have found for myself, add a smattering of  academia, and voila…

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Last month, my husband and I went to see two performances at the same theatre two nights in a row. One was seeing the “Carolina Chocolate Drops”(www.carolinachocolatedrops.com), an absolutely wonderful old time African American string band from North Carolina. Yet they are much more than that. This group  which includes a cellist, learned much of their music by listening to, and playing in the company of elders, especially Joe Thompson, who, in his 90’s still mentors them. Through their learning and understanding of the music, they manage in a joyful, high energy and stunningly deep  way, to portray and translate and speak to the complex issues of the day, be it in the late 1920’s or today. (more…)

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Walking along, one sees Kangi, a women’s traditional art form.  Women create this transient designs on their doorsteps. The process is a meditation,and a  means to release worry and guilt  a person may hold inside.

I past a man in front of a large bag of trash, picking out the papers for recycling. He was old, dirt smeared, and dressed in rags, clearly delit in caste. He read each paper carefully before putting it aside. I asked if I could take his picture but he was not happy with the idea. So I took no pictures. I was struck he could read, and was taking  the time to read as he did his job of recycling.

India is a mix of experiences. I find that I am feeling a lot of tension being here. India is not necessarily a comfortable place, yet there is so much to it.  I wonder about the lifestyle I am used to, how plush it is. Walking the streets of developing countries has the ability to make one feel very guilty for having anything.

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I arrived in Denspensuar, Bali, late Thursday night. My tour guide (hired by the auntie of one of the faculty) picked me up at the airport, and took me to a villa that is privately owned in a quiet part of the city. The college in Salatiga generously, and kindly, paid for my hotel in Bali. I can only imagine what that cost them. The villa, composed of beautiful traditional  structures overlooking Bali, with the Indian Ocean in the distance, was filled with magnificent traditional Balinese furniture. The  pool was clear and clean, but between my cold, and the rain that fell more often than not, I never got to try the pool.

I was alone much of the time at the Villa. There were workmen, but I never saw other guests, or even the owners, even in the outdoor area near the pool, an area meant for use by the community. There was no wi-fi, so I was in a very quiet place  indeed.

The next day, My guide (Ranga) picked me up early and we went to a (more…)

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