Art workshops are usually meant to help people develop their creative skills and reputable artists will come host painting or drawing sessions to teach people new techniques. But Susan Meyer's art program teaches something different: how the artists can use creative expression as a way of meditation.
“We empower our clients through the art process and to basically rise above the violence and move on to better things,” said Susan Meyers, director of the Art Enrichment North Central Windows Program (NCWP).
A non-profit organization centered in Superior, NCWP is a place for survivors and victims of violence to heal and focus on themselves. Meyers also stressed the importance of safety for the participants, saying, “They can say that they’re going to an art workshop if asked about it.”
The program hosts annual exhibits that showcase the work done by clients, and this year NCWP will have its opening reception for the “Heart Stories Art Exhibit” on Oct. 6 at the UMD Multicultural Center.
“Our workshops are very structured, and there is always a specific directive; for example, Day One will cover low self-esteem,” Meyers said. “We not only encourage them to do the projects, but also to share their feelings -- just relax and know that they’re in a safe place.”
Creative expression is like an inner voice, and part of what NCWP teaches victims is how to show their journeys and stories in a way that will give them strength instead of fear.
“People talk more when they feel safe, not judged,” said Emily Gaarder, an associate professor in UMD’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology. “Part of being a victim of violence is isolation, and especially when we live in a culture of women putting each other down, it can become dangerous.”
As part of her work as a professor, Gaarder teaches courses such as Women and Justice and Victimology.
“Services are legal in nature, and victims of domestic violence are provided with wonderful counseling assistance,” Gaarder said. “But the Art Enrichment program is important in a way that invites women to feel confident. Susan’s program not only provides a safe and inviting environment for women, but it also gives them the connections to others.”
Meyers recalled the story of a young mother who entered the program when she was 18 years old. She is now getting her degree in art therapy at UWS and is considering graduate school.
“Survivors are resilient and strong; when you’re a survivor of violence you deserve more, and we need art,” said Gaarder. “We need beautiful things, too.”