Few, if any, of the children, teenagers and adults considered themselves artists. But then there were two women, smiling, encouraging their creativity, calling them “artists.”
The women understood preoccupations persisted far different than art: Many of the young people struggled with difficult circumstances. Some worried about unstable family and home lives, or about getting in trouble at school or with the police. Others felt burdened by the daily stresses of living in poverty.
“Art helps bring visibility to the invisibility of a status with less social capital, like being from an ethnic minority or being a child in juvenile detention or being a person with a mental disorder,” said Anne Glowinski, MD, a professor of psychiatry and associate director of the Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.
For the past year, Glowinski has partnered with Adrienne Outlaw — a St. Louis artist known globally for using art to help address health and social justice issues — to create PRESENT, a public artwork program that began last summer with weekly workshops for three dozen area participants, most of them children and teens. It included a series of workshops that combined mindfulness and artmaking as an expressive coping tool.
Ten of the university’s faculty, fellows and students also volunteered, as did deputy juvenile officers with the St. Louis City Family Court Truancy Initiative, which aims to keep at-risk youth in school. Interested community members also participated.
The workshops integrated yoga with artmaking and emphasized individual and shared reflections to boost mindfulness, a therapeutic technique that involves focusing on thoughts and feelings while being aware of the present moment.
“At first, the kids seemed skeptical when Dr. Glowinski and I called them artists,” Outlaw said. “But we assured them that everyone is an artist. We were asking participants to risk self-expression, which is an essential condition for being an artist.”