“Can you imagine a child returning a crayon to you and a blank piece of paper because they didn’t know the proper techniques of drawing? It’s absurd to imagine, right?! Well I see adults do it all the time. They tell me they aren’t good at art… and I want to shake some sense into them and say, ‘If you are human, you are an artist,’” said Katie Bak, as she gathered an intimate group of twenty students and community members at the Mckay Center Thursday night in an art therapy workshop.

There were soft Christmas lights strung up around the room, a refreshments table with freshly baked cookies, and jazz humming in the background. “I wanted this room, for a moment, to resemble a home and not a classroom,” said Katie, “my hope was that as each person came in they felt they were welcome and safe to share their experiences and their art with us strangers.” One of the participants, Kortney Kluza, expressed “By the end of the workshop, I don’t think we felt like strangers at all.. Katie really helped bring out parts of me that are hard to express and put it into poetry and I think others felt a similar way.”

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The two hour workshop engaged the group with a guest performer, Lani Fisher, a short lecture and demonstration regarding the power of poetry and art in healing, and a guided poetry writing session where each participant was shown step by step how to create their own poem. The most effective part of the workshop was the sharing and discussion that happened after the poetry writing session. Katie Schneiter said after the workshop, “I was really surprised how open everyone got towards the end, we shared some personal experiences that we normally wouldn’t share with people on first meeting, but the poems that we wrote made it easier for us to open up. It was really beautiful.”

Art therapy has gained a growing interest in the counseling community. Art therapy groups  started popping up around the nation since 1964 when Adrain Hill and various psychologists began publishing books about art’s ability to aid in the process of expression and in healing. For Katie, she found solace in poetry and creating anything she could create, whether it be drawings, paintings, or sculptures. She has never taken a formal art class or even looked deeply into the various techniques of art- for her the focus has always been on simply expressing and creating with no judgement towards the end result or how it might be interpreted by others. “I just start with what I’m feeling and sometimes words will come in the form of a poem, or my hands will get antsy and I know I need to get my paintbrushes.. it’s been a very cathartic process for me to simply create.. that’s why I started these workshops, I want it to be healing for other people too. My dream is that somehow my love for poetry and art can help people discover their voice and a greater sense of inner peace as they begin creating their own works of art.”

These workshops are expected to continue throughout the semester. Katie hopes that when she graduates someone will take over her role and allow the community to have access continually to a group where people are free to meet, share art, talk story, and connect in a way that can foster peace.