Arla Herron-Nurse, Art Therapist

Among a table full of pastels, markers and multi-colored paper, community members gathered last Wednesday for the first Arts to End Violence workshop of 2013. Taught by Arla Herron-Nurse, a licensed Art Therapist with a degree in special education, and also a Save Our Streets Crown Heights volunteer, the event discussed the use of arts and crafts to open up conversations with children about traumatic experiences.

Arla told the group that “children need to express their emotions so they can learn,” and that she’d been employed by several schools to help children whose emotional issues were blocking their progress and causing them to act out.

One fifth-grade student had come into school acting very withdrawn, and would not talk about what was wrong. When Arla told her to draw what she felt the student produced a picture that helped her express the traumatic experiences she had endured, including the murder of her aunt and the recent hospitalization of her father. “Children don’t have the same kind of reticence about drawing as adults do,” Arla said. “If you give them a piece of paper and pen, they’ll draw what they feel.”

Art expression has also been a useful therapeutic tool in hospitals, prisons, and various other settings, Arla said. At this Arts to End Violence workshop Arla instructed the attendees, a group of local teachers, artists and activists, to draw a picture that illustrated their emotions. Though some were initially hesitant to draw after years without practice, the drawings produced were beautiful images that the group later analyzed and discussed. Through this process, Arla explained, the adults could better empathize with a child in the same position, and also gain tools for engaging children in conversation about their art.

As the first Arts to End Violence workshop drew to a close, attendees expressed excitement about the upcoming Arts to End Violence events. They agreed that there is much inspiration and motivation to be gained from events that join activism with the arts.