Monthly Archives: May 2014

Meet the Artists and Social-Media Apprentices of the Art School Without Walls


This is a great project’



The mural is up.

Sign Language, the 45-by-80 foot image of a boy reaching for a bicycle wheel–and the sky–stretches across the facade of a new residential structure at 267 Pacific Street in the Boerum Hill section of Brooklyn.

The mural is the production of Cre8tive YouTH*ink, the creative-arts youth-development nonprofit run by Jerry Otero (aka Mista Oh), in collaboration with the Quinlan Development Group and Lonicera Partners. The project, “The Art School Without Walls, Vol. 6,” featuring street artists Chris Stain and Billy Mode, provided creative arts mentorship to 15 inner-city youths (ages 15–22) in a two-month-long mural workshop.


Production took place at the group’s temporary headquarters, a large studio in the Industry City Complex located in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. There, Stain and Mode engaged the 15 apprentices in all aspects of mural-making to produce Sign Language, which was inspired by a photo by the legendary Martha…

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Music Makes Us One: Memorial Day



Secret of Music and Healing: Connectedness

Secret of Music and Healing: Connectedness

No other art form brings us together so powerfully as music. It heals individuals and communities; it lifts the heart and soothes the spirit. It is the essence of connectedness.


Did you watch or attend the National Memorial Day concert on the Mall last night? It was the 25th anniversary of these occasions. I sat on the steps of the Capitol for the first three before I moved home to Boston.

This year’s concert was the most moving of all that I have watched. It was a living, breathing example of how music brings us together and soothes the traumatic memories of war and suffering. The presence of so many returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, the gold star mothers and their stories, the still living group of veterans from the Normandy invasion, the remembrances of Vietnam and Korea, made us one in mind and heart, if only for that short time.

Music has a long history in our armed forces, from the Revolutionary War to the present day. From the Fife and Drums to present day marching and concert bands, small instrumental groups and choral performers, each service uses music as a way to inspire, encourage, and heal its members.

Music is a powerful instrument of healing for individuals and communities. The Boston Marathon bombing was but one example of music helping the community to heal.


A few days after the Boston Marathon Bombing, there was a poignant and powerful Interfaith ceremony in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. I know the Cathedral well. The last place I taught before going to graduate school was Cathedral High School and the sophomore choral group was one assignment.

The ceremony brought together people of all faiths and all political beliefs to remember to sing, to listen. To cry and be healed. The Boston Children’s Choir and the Cathedral Concert Choir performed. President Obama spoke. One of the most powerful segments of the program was the great cellist Yo-Yo Ma playing the Bach Cello Suite No. 5 in E-Minor. Although he grew up in New York, Boston has been his home since his days as an undergraduate at Harvard. The first time I heard him play was at a small gathering in December of 1972, when he was a freshman and his genius at bringing people together through music was evident even then.

Yo-Yo Ms Playing the Cello Courtesy of Carnegie Hall Archives

Yo-Yo Ma Playing the Cello
Courtesy of Carnegie Hall Archives

The power of music to bring people together in Boston is personified by the concert held on May 26, 2013, just a year ago today. The Empire State Sinfonia presented “Beethoven for Boston: A Memorial to Benefit the One Fund.” Boston and New York may be rivals to the end in baseball, but when one city is harmed, the other comes quickly to the rescue. Connectedness counts. Leonardo was right.





Trauma, the Arts, and Resilience


nightskynine-2.jpgIn this post I am going to share some examples of creative expression helping individuals and communities to heal. Before that, however, I would like to introduce an extraordinary organization in Boston that is working on this issue of resilience–how do individuals and communities survive and begin to live again after the traumas of war, natural disasters, and illness.

The Foundation for Art and Healing

“As a public health practitioner, I think that a serious exploration and promotion of creative expression as a way to better put us in touch with ourselves and others–increase resilience even as it increases compassion and empathy–is timely and warranted…not just in Boston but worldwide.” Jeremy Nobel, MD, MPH

Dr. Jeremy Nobel, a physician and public health expert in Boston, established the Foundation for Art and Healing. On its website it proclaims that it is “Bridging Science and the Arts to Impact Lives.” It is doing this through three approaches:

1. Exploration: studying the links between creative expression and health;

2. Empowerment: Promoting arts-based solutions for coping with life’s health-related challenges; and

3. Engagement: Sharing stories of hope, healing, and possibility to activate and inspire others.

While my examples in this post do not come from Dr. Nobel’s work, I strongly recommend that you view his website and the work the organization is doing.


“In the difficult conditions that the country is going through, we wanted to give a smile to the people, joy to the children, and show people that the Syrian people love life, love beauty, love creativity.” Moaffak Makhoul, lead artist

10001098_10152090195279032_1389155935_oThe mural made the Guinness Book of Records as the largest in the world made from recycled materials–broken glass and pottery, bicycle wheels, whatever they could find in the streets was turned to good use. What matters is not its size–although that in itself makes a strong statement–but that a group of artists felt impelled to do something beautiful for the community in a time of daily trauma from the war. The children attending the nearby school love the mural; it adds beauty and hope to their daily lives.


Vrygron, SA Capricorn Elementary Schoo

Vrygrond, SA
Capricorn Elementary School

Vrygrond is now considered a suburb of Cape Town; it was the first of the “squatters villages” that grew up in the area and, unlike many such communities, is multi-ethnic and multicultural.  The people who live there are socially and economically deprived. There is violence on a regular basis from gangs and most recently from warring taxi drivers.

Capricorn Elementary School opened in 2008; prior to this the small Library and the Creche (pre-school) were the only groups providing help for the children. Capricorn serves 400 students in the grades R-3 in the South African system. When they finish here, students must go to school in other communities, which is very difficult for them.

The Butterfly Project, supported by the International Child Art Foundation, is helping traumatized children from the township to develop resilience and some hope in the dealing with the ongoing violence in their lives. As late as last Friday parents refused to bring their children to school because of it.

Children and Teachers, Capricorn Elementary School, Vrygrond, SA

Children and Teachers, Capricorn Elementary School, Vrygrond, SA


Children and Teachers Vrygrond, SA

Children and Teachers
Vrygrond, SA


Celebrating the Creativity of Children

Detail from Fireworks Series, 2013 Artist: Regina MJ Kyle

Detail from Fireworks Series, 2013
Artist: Regina MJ Kyle

The Wisdom of Merton The Art of Children

The Wisdom of Merton
The Art of Children


Since this is the first day of the Memorial Day weekend and I posted the art of veterans yesterday, I thought I would dedicate this post to the creativity of young children. The arts are essential in life and in education. Every child should have the opportunity to express creativity, yet too many are deprived of this essential breath of life.

10264297_10152141512797965_859546275080302640_n This poster, taken from the Facebook page of Art in Action, demonstrates what occurs too often in our society. Most of the images I will share today are wonderful creations from children in schools that use the Art in Action curriculum.

Art in Action is a wonderful program begun in 1981 by a mother in California. Her daughter was just starting kindergarten at a time when Proposition 13 was decimating the arts programs in California schools. It has grown to serving more than 1600 schools and 46,0000 students in K-8 in California, across the nation, and even in the UK, Singapore, Kuwait, Kenya, and China. It fits into the common core patterns in states across the United States.






Redeemer Elementary School

Art Exhibition Redeemer School California

Art Exhibition
Redeemer School




This is an image of the art exhibition staged by the Redeemer Elementary School. They hung the creations of every child in the school, something that doesn’t often happen. One of teachers had the idea to hang 15-foot panels from the ceiling to have enough display space.  If you click on the image, you can focus in on individual works of art.






Brittan Acres Elementary School

"SWAN" Art Inspired by Dali Fourth Grade Girl Brittan Acres School

Art Inspired by Dali
Fourth Grade Girl
Brittan Acres School




This is a wonderful piece by a girl in the fourth grade at Brittan Acres. Because the Art in Action curriculum also includes art history and the work of great artists, young people are able to learn from them. Finding one’s way in art always involves the understanding and imitating of those who have gone before us.








Saints Peter and Paul Salerian School

Student Art Saints Peter & Paul Salerian School

Student Art
Saints Peter & Paul Salerian School




This is a vibrant piece of art from Saints Peter and Paul Salerian School in San Francisco. Like the “Swan” from another school using the Art in Action curriculum, it shows the influence of their study of the work of Salvador Dali.









Iris Grace Paintings, UK

Dancing to the Oboes Iris Grace, 4 years old. United Kingdom

Dancing to the Oboes
Iris Grace, 4 years old.
United Kingdom


I shared before some work of Iris Grace, a four-year old girl from the United Kingdom, who is autistic. Her mother is raising her to explore her own interests, gradually exposing her to social situations. This particular piece was painted after Iris Grace attended a music session especially for children. Her mother has been exposing her gradually to the musical arts and Iris Grace came home from the concert and began almost immediately to paint.

Iris Grace is an extraordinary artist who is finding her way into life through her paintings. I strongly recommend that anyone who is interested in the education of autistic children follow her Facebook page, Iris Grace Paintings. Her mother Arabella shares her progress on Facebook several times a week. These reports form a model of how to raise a child with autism. Iris Grace also has a constant companion in her cat Thula.




Iris Grace in the Exploring in the Yard  may 2014

Iris Grace Exploring in the Yard
May 2014

Veterans and the Creative Arts

Making the Milwaukee Steles

Making the Minnesota Steles








One of the areas I am exploring in some depth right now is the role the creative arts play in the lives of active and returning veterans. Do we know how important this has been and what rich and diverse art pieces these men and women have created? I think most communities are not aware of these developments. The image to the right shows an artist-veteran working on one of the steles created for the Turning Points exhibit developed by  the Veterans in the Arts project in St. Paul represent major transformations in the lives of veterans.

In ancient times, steles were used to mark boundaries, to transmit information, to commemorate military victories. An obelisk is a particular kind of stele and in our time one commemoration of the Holocaust is a field of empty steles.


This organization, founded by a former Air Force veteran Suzanne Asher, evolved from her experiences with two groups who brought workshops to Milwaukee in 2009, the Combat Paper Project and the Warrior Writers Project. She had the experience of taking her old uniforms and transforming them into handmade paper. In her introduction to the organization she notes the importance of the arts in the lives of veterans: “The experience of violent conflict and trauma seeks resolution in an individual. Left unresolved, it can lead to inhibition and repression of wellbeing, and sometimes can lead to violence against themselves or their loved ones. Resolved, it can lead to a deeper engagement and reverence for life that can enhance the life of the individual and their contribution to their family and the community.” The arts are powerful instruments for resolution.

Veterans in the Arts has a comprehensive program supported by various partners. There are classes in art, music, photography, theater workshops, woodworking and writing. Forty veterans have the opportunity to attend an art retreat. The focus of the group is to help the artist-veteran to navigate the professional world of the arts.



Enemies Meeting in the Rain John Plunkett, Vietnam Vet

Enemies Meeting in the Rain
John Plunkett, Vietnam Vet



This is probably the art museum that nobody knows. It is a stunning collection of art by veterans from the Vietnam War to the present. Located in Chicago, it has evolved over the years from collecting and exhibiting only the work of Vietnam era vets to including pieces from artist-veterans from all the wars from Vietnam to the present day.

The current exhibit, on through August 1 is “Esprit de Corps: An Exhibit Highlighting the Spirit of Creative Resilience.” The guide notes that the exhibition “traces the process and roles of therapeutic art from the act of initial perception through expression of experience to an ultimate communal sharing of understanding of the impact of war.”

The museum will open in a few days the new exhibition “Surrealism and War.” There is a powerful trailer on the museum’s website. I recommend that you watch it and, if you are in the Chicago area before November, see it for yourself.


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The first and third photos are of veterans performing at the 2013 National Veterans Creative Arts Festival. The center photo is of a group of the prize winners at the festival.

This VA sponsored activity grew out of two competitions begun in 1981 at separate VA medical facilities. Muriel Barbour founded VET ARTS at the VA medical center in Richmond, Virginia; Shirley Jefferies established the Performing Arts Competition at the VA center in Waco, Texas. These two ventures merged in 1989 and added drama and dance sections. In 2005 at the St. Louis event, creative writing became a new area for competition. For the 2013 festival, 3,883 veterans from 119 VA medical facilities competed for the prizes and exhibits or performances at the 2013 festival.

The Veterans Administration has integrated the creative arts into their recreation programs at each medical facility. The VA is also working to change the culture in their nursing homes, now called Community Living Centers. In Illinois and Wisconsin they are adding some Green House models to the Community Living Centers. See my post on Innovations in Senior Housing.

I will be posting more examples of veterans in the creative arts over the summer.


Dance to the Oboe


This is one of the most astonishing young girls you will ever meet–she is autistic and her mother is a miracle worker in the way she is educating her. She is only four!

Iris Grace Painting

Iris had a fantastic morning at Babygigs again, this week it was the Oboe played by Victoria Brawn with a programme including Ravel, Graziola, Ronald Binge and Dring. It all started well, Iris was confident as we walked from the car across a busy high street hand in hand to the building. At first with her on my lap listening to the music, she giggled and smiled at the musicians, then venturing further to check everyone out. When the Oboe player asked if anyone has their dancing shoes on, she bounced up and down right in front of her with her pink shoes and after the music had stopped she had a wonderful time dancing around the Hall. I am so grateful that the musicians are running these concerts, it’s a precious gift to us as it’s somewhere that Iris feels relaxed and happy with the Music enabling her…

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Thoughts on Create & Be Well



When I was driving to Ocala last May, I stopped in Saint Augustine for a few days. I fell in love with the peacocks at the Fountain of Youth park and archaeological dig. They roam freely throughout the site, even around the small cafe and parking lot: beauty and freedom together. In the near distance is the sea, in the small building the “fountain” the legendary source of healing and youth. This blog is really about those three: beauty, freedom, water.

Our creations are beautiful…paintings, sculptures. gardens, homes, plays, stories, novels, communities, dances, boats, quilts, photographs, drawings, songs, cards, clothes, rooms, cities, farms…

To be free requires wellness…spiritual, physical, emotional, political, economic, social, intellectual…

Water is the most powerful instrument in nature…it can destroy, but it also is the giver of life, is life itself. We are mostly water. It brings healing and purification, calmness and peace.

Create and Be Well is about beauty, freedom, water and how together they help us shape and transform our lives and our worlds.