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Art + Healing Exhibition

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Art+Healing at London Art Therapy Centre
Art+Healing at London Art Therapy Centre (Click to zoom)

Almost a year in the planning, London Art Therapy Centre recently collaborated with Cate and Melanie from the Art Therapy Agency to host a major public art therapy exhibition.

The artworks from behind the closed doors of art therapy rarely go on public show. It takes courage from each contributor and a great deal of thought to put together two connected exhibitions of images and sculpture made during art therapy sessions.

Between 18 April – 5 June 2013 the public art therapy exhibition takes place in two simultaneous venues – University College Hospital Street Gallery and London Art Therapy Centre.

On Saturday 4th May we hosted a special event comprising an open art therapy studio, a Question Time-type debate and a private view. This was massively over-booked in anticipation of a special event, the artworks looked stunning, and the weather was lovely!

The open studio was facilitated by art therapists and trainees, and visitors were invited to use art materials in any way they pleased. Quite a few young children came with their parents and played with the sandtray, and used the art materials. It was wonderful to see that the images made in the open studio were stuck on the studio wall, mirroring the actual exhibition in the corridor space. The children (and some adults) were delighted.

From 4-5pm everyone was invited into the studio for the debate. On the panel we had Cate Smail from the Art Therapy Agency, who curated the UCH show together with Guy Noble (from UCH) and initiated the Art + Healing exhibition; Richard Kidgell, featured artist & member of Combat Stress; Alex McDonald, art therapist & featured artist; Tehsin, an art therapy client and featured artist; Dr Brian Kaplan, medical doctor and author; and chaired by me, not Dimbleby.

In the audience there were members of the general public, artists and art therapists as well as organizations who work with the arts and art therapy. These included Rachel Wingfield-Schwartz from the Clinic for Dissociative Studies; Naomi Press and Tania Kazcynski from the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture; a group from Ubuntu Arts – a community arts group based in Walthamstow; and Maddy from The Passage – a charity supporting the homeless.

Each guest on the panel was invited to talk a bit about their perspective on the exhibition, and to consider the following points:

To Caitlin – How did this exhibition come about, what you were aiming for and why? Can we think about this idea that art therapy clients and artists are exhibiting together?

To Richard – One of the things you wrote was that art therapy saved your life. How have you engaged with it and why do you think your experience of other therapies was not as successful as art therapy?

To Brian – What role do you see for art therapy in general medicine? Can you talk about stress and its physiological effects and how art therapy may be of use? What are your experiences of art therapy benefitting your patients?

To Alex – you are here with your former client Tehsin and both of you are exhibiting at the show; this was work made in parallel during the art therapy sessions. How did that work for you both and how is it to be here now together?

To Tehsin – you are a former art therapy client, here with your art therapist, perhaps you can say a few words about how you have benefitted from art therapy and what it means to have your work in this exhibition?

Everyone on the panel spoke well about their respective positions and there was a great sense of everyone being a committed art therapy fan. Beyond that there were some important themes discussed:

What do art therapists and clients think about opening the traditionally closed doors of art therapy?

How it feels for art therapists to have their work seen by clients and how clients feel about seeing their therapists’ work?

How do art therapists who paint alongside their clients manage this potential self-disclosure? How is painting the counter-transference helpful to the process?

There were also good points made on the distinction between being ‘good at art’, engaging in art therapy and contributing to an art therapy exhibition.

Audience members all wanted to speak and contribute to the debate. We heard more about PTSD and art therapy from Frank, another veteran from Combat Stress – who was delighted to have his first ever painting sold at the show.  

A final comment opened up a whole new debate – an art therapist in the audience questioned whether the artworks could have been labeled without mention of the artist being an art therapist or an art therapy client. I presented the alternative view to this relevant point, suggesting that perhaps by removing this detail, we may be in danger of colluding with the idea that to be an art therapy client has a stigma attached (so therefore should be anonymous), whereas there were many courageous clients who have exhibited here with a sense of pride of their own artistic and psychological growth. Handing the last word to the clients, they spoke in favour of being recognized as art therapy clients. This debate could of course go on…

At our end all credit for the exhibition organisation, curation, management, PR, and everything in between goes to Kim Davies who managed the whole event with sensitivity, care, attention to detail and effectiveness.

Thanks also to everyone who turned up to help – prepare, tidy up, serve drinks, make popcorn, facilitate the open studio, take photographs, and more. Thank you very much (in alphabetical order) to – Amanda, David, Ebony, Gary, Jane C., Karen, Mark, Mirella, Nili, Stelios and to Kim who made the whole event such a success!

The exhibition is open till 6 June so do email if you would like to visit.

Hephzibah Kaplan


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