Arts Unchained began in 2012 with as a theoretical design for an idea experiential learning opportunity. While in a PhD program at Lesley University, Cambridge MA, our current coordinator, Dr. Kelvin Ramirez, was engaged in research studying the effects of art therapy on the education experience of inner city adolescents. As the Vice-Principal of Student Affairs of an inner city high school in the South Bronx and an adjunct professor at the College of New Rochelle and Long Island University, Kelvin realized that educational experiences, especially those shaped by poverty and violence, have the possibility of negatively influencing the professional trajectory of many adolescents. For the graduate students, understanding the abstract and concrete structures of systemic oppression remains paramount in deconstructing the complex interrelated structures of poverty and its effects on mental health and self-esteem.
In 2012, Kelvin reconnected with Michael Cipoletti, a friend from their undergraduate days at Stonehill College, North Easton, MA,. who was now the Executive Director of FNE International, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization based in Boston which was founded in February of 2011. The pair had traveled to Peru on a service trip in 1999 and the Dominican Republic a few years later. FNE International is the culmination of the longstanding work of Michael Cipoletti and SF60K in Nicaragua with the work of other executive board members to enact education and sustainable development projects in Nicaragua and Peru.
Together, Michael and Kelvin discussed the possibilities of designing an international experience grounded in Art Therapy that recognizes both the differences and commonalities that bond of all those involved. With the support of FNE International, the administration for All Hallows High School, and some overzealous interns, Kelvin facilitated an Art Therapy based experience for high school students and graduate level art therapy students from both Long Island University and The College of New Rochelle to collaboratively work in Nino Feliz, a special needs school in Chichigalpa, Nicaragua. The following year Kelvin organized another group of graduate level art therapy students to volunteer their skills in the Dominican Republic and we created similar therapeutic experiences at FUCPE, a community center and school in one of the poorest sections of La Romana.
Arts Unchained was created by a group of individuals who affirm the The evolution of an idea, through countless conversations and experiences, solidified our commitment to support our partnering communities. From our perspective, the most effective way to elevate the importance of this type of work was to integrate Arts Unchained within FNE International as a sub committee in 2015. Together we support and grow the use of the Creative Arts Therapies internationally through social action.
What is Art Therapy?
Artistic expression, as demonstrated by history and affirmed by recent advances in science, have been a central component in the exploration of the vast and complex nature of the human experience. Artistic expression, something artists are driven to intuitively, is a grounding element of Art Therapy, which is based on the belief that the creative process and self-expression help all individuals attain greater levels of mental health.
According to the American Art Therapy Association, “Art Therapy is a mental health profession in which clients, facilitated by the art therapist, use art media, the creative process, and the resulting artwork to explore their feelings, reconcile emotional conflicts, foster self-awareness, manage behavior and addictions, develop social skills, improve reality orientation, reduce anxiety, and increase self-esteem. To improve or restore a client’s functioning and his or her sense of personal well-being, is a goal of art therapy.” Art therapists are required to possess knowledge of visual art (drawing, painting, sculpture, and other art forms) and the creative process, the use of a variety of art materials/media, as well as a deep understanding of human development, psychology, and counseling theories and techniques.
Arts Unchained focuses on collaborations grounded in social action theory. We collaborate with mental health professionals and graduate level students in the United States and partner with professional educators and community leaders in Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic so that each group can take their knowledge of clinical, educational, behavioral, and creative arts therapy techniques and incorporate them in addressing the needs of their individual community. In Nicaragua, we have partnered with Niño Feliz, a special needs school in the community of Chichigalpa, and Aldeas SOS, an orphanage in Leon. In the Dominican Republic, we have partnered with FUCPE, an impoverished school in Villa Caoba, La Romana, where clinical knowledge and resources are limited. Our guiding force is embodied in the Mission and Vision of FNE International who’s Lateral Development model uses “positive experiences of project implementation and replicate them with neighboring communities, or even communities in other countries. They are able to share their experiences, what worked and what needs improvement, and the importance of community engagement. A model that moves ‘laterally’ can have a greater impact in further empowering rural community leaders by strengthening networks and organization through the identification of best practices.”
FNE International has an exciting new partnership with Arts Unchained. Arts Unchained is an organization founded by Lesley University Professor Dr. Kelvin Ramirez, Ph.D., ATR-BC, LCAT, designed and organized by the Nicaragua Regional Director of Arts Unchained, Elizabeth Youngs, and sponsored by FNE International.
Arts Unchained has provided creative arts therapy to the communities that FNEI works with in Nicaragua on weeklong trips once or twice a year since March 2012.
The aim of the social action art therapy experiences in Nicaragua is to provide opportunities for professionals and graduate level students to take their knowledge of clinical, educational, behavioral, and creative arts therapy techniques and put them into practice at Niño Feliz, a special needs school in the community of Chichigalpa, and Aldeas SOS, an orphanage in Leon, where clinical knowledge and resources are limited.
At Nino Feliz, the participants collaborate with the teachers and other staff members in the classrooms to provide useful educational tools and approaches to address the individual needs of the students. Although many approaches and techniques are used, creating artwork has been the primary modality used to promote self-expression, communication, and engagement with the special needs students at Nino Feliz. The students have displayed a sense of ownership, pride, and joy when sharing their artwork and while participating in a shared experience of play.
Arts Unchained not only provides therapeutic art experiences for the students but also provides educational tools and techniques for the teachers and parents as well. The creative arts therapy professionals and special needs educators that participate in these trips design workshops specifically for the teachers and parents of this unique population. Workshops have focused on educating them on special needs symptomology and diagnoses, behavior intervention, classroom management, and self-care techniques.
Arts Unchained recently began a relationship with the children and staff at Aldeas SOS on a recent trip in April 2015. During this visit the participants were assigned to a group of children and developed and planned art directives based on the developmental age levels of their group of students. Art directives were used as a way to communicate with the children in addition to being a therapeutic means of expression and exploration of their identity. Similar to Nino Feliz, a variety of play, education, and behavioral techniques were modeled and used.
This July Arts Unchained plans on coming back to Aldeas SOS to continue their work with the children at the orphanage and to expand their work by offering workshops for the teachers and staff at Aldeas SOS. These workshops will focus on educational tools, behavior interventions, classroom management, and self-care techniques.