Art from Art Therapists

At the American Art Therapy Association Conference last week in Seattle, I bought $5 worth of raffle tickets to benefit  the Multicultural Committee’s Scholarship Fund. Much to my surprise, at the end of the closing reception they drew the tickets and called out my name! Here is a picture of the banner, hanging in the art area at the clinic at Lombardi.

American Art Therapy Association Multicultural Commitee Art Banner

American Art Therapy Association Multicultural Commitee Art Banner

 

Tracy’s Story

The Tracy’s Kids Art Therapists have been writing about how they came to the field of art therapy. My path, like most of theirs, was a winding road. When I was eight years old, the thought came to me “I am an artist.” Not, “I want to be an artist when I grow up,” but I am an artist and I always will be.

I come from a long line of teachers—specifically early childhood educators—so I always assumed that would be my profession. Having arrived on the planet at the tail-end of the baby boom, by the time I graduated from high school the early boomers were already into their careers, and there weren’t a lot of opportunities on the horizon, even for teachers!

Since there wasn’t much point in going into education, I decided to follow my heart and major in art. Art school was tough—much tougher than most folks think—and the mid-late 1970’s were a time of transition in the art world. But I earned a BFA in Painting and Printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University in 1978. My BFA mainly qualified me to wait tables, work retail, and cashier at a ski lodge–and do art.

After several years of doing seasonal work and continuing to develop my art, I was hired to be the first County Arts Coordinator in Watauga County, NC. My duties included supervising all the arts-related programs for the county Parks and Rec. Department, and starting and directing a community Arts Council. I held the job for four years, learned a lot, and worked with many wonderful artists in the community—but because it was successful, the workload grew and grew. I found that I was regularly working 70 hours a week, and no longer had time for my own art. I gave up the Arts Coordinator position and became the Secretary at the Mission School Conference Center in Valle Crucis, NC in 1984. That was a mostly nine-to-five job in a pastoral setting, and it allowed me to again focus on my own art.

During the two years I worked there, I had a one-person show at a local gallery and got back into woodblock prints—one of my favorite media. Since I had more free time, I joined the church choir—and it turned out the choir director’s day job was as a Music Therapist! I had never heard of such a thing, but I asked her if there was something similar for visual art. It sounded like a profession that resonated with my personality and my reasons for making art. She put me in touch with the American Art Therapy Association, and by August of that year I was enrolled in the Art Therapy Master’s Program at GWU—ten years after I earned my BFA!

As part of my training, I was lucky to have a second-year internship at Georgetown Hospital that included Pediatric Hematology-Oncology. I loved the work immediately—setting up with a plastic basket of art supplies in the clinic waiting room, engaging patients, siblings and parents and supporting them through the ups and downs of treatment.

I treasured the experience, and when the opportunity opened up for me to help write a grant to start an art therapy program back at Lombardi, I jumped at the chance. I started out part-time in September 1991, and the Prevent Cancer Foundation in Alexandria, VA, started funding the program full-time in January 1992. They supported the program for many years, until Tracy’s Kids became a free-standing non-profit in 2009.

Today, with programs in five Pediatric Hematology-Oncology treatment programs, staffed by eight art therapists, Tracy’s Kids is much bigger than Tracy—but it is wonderful to see the model I developed at Georgetown adapt so beautifully in others’ hands. The profession of art therapy is all about using one’s inner resources to meet life’s challenges, and it is my daily privilege to help with that process in whatever way I can.