healing through art

Hearts Mend Hearts helps Charleston heal after tragedy

Daily stress has a way of multiplying under harsh conditions. And stress was heightened for many of us this summer as Charleston faced the tragedy at Mother Emanuel AME church.

Lingering feelings of grief, anxiety and dread are never easy to process alone, and painful emotions don’t disappear when the news stops reporting it.

It’s easy to feel support in a crowd of loved ones, but what happens when you’re left alone to process your emotions?

That’s where a new initiative launched by Hearts Mend Hearts, a Charleston-based project, can offer aid. Hearts Mend Hearts’ mission sounds simple: “Helping a grief-stricken community by using the healing properties of art.” But, as Laura De La Maza, one of the program’s organizers, explains, art therapy is much more than an exercise in stress relief.

“Art can heal,” De La Maza says. “And I speak from a voice of experience. I didn’t read it in a book, I’ve practiced it. I’ve been doing this type of art in the classroom for many years, I just don’t call it art therapy. But I know that it works because I’ve tried it.”

De La Maza, a former public school art teacher in Charleston, recalls two separate instances where she used art therapy to help students and individuals process trauma and grief: after Hurricane Hugo in 1989 and the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“It helps heal the grief and hurt of a country,” she says.

Twenty-six years after Hugo, it’s time for Charleston to heal once again. De La Maza, along with Dianne Vincent, a registered art therapist with degrees in nursing and art, organized Hearts Mend Hearts together with Sharon Martin and Dr. Deborah Milling, a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist, respectively. De La Maza and Vincent lead the activities at each session at the main branch of the Charleston County Public Library.

A typical session runs for 90 minutes and begins with a brief explanation of art therapy and basic artistic instructions. Participants are then allowed time to work on their own art or they can work on coloring a mandala, a circular religious symbol that can have intricate patterns.

There is a “wind down” period at the end of the session where participants are free to discuss their artwork and share their process and thoughts. However, sharing and speaking in the group is not required

“Whatever comes out on that piece of paper, it’s part of the processing,” De La Maza says. “And then you understand you don’t have to know anything about art to participate.”

And that’s an element that De La Maza stresses about the sessions; you can walk in with no knowledge of art or any artistic ability and still benefit from the session. Volunteers are on hand to help and all materials are free. In fact, all materials are donated, an act that reinforces Charleston’s commitment to working together.

“Every session is different. Each session has its own persona,” De La Maza says. “But we’re all here because we need healing. The people who died (at Emanuel AME) touched a lot of lives.”

The sessions will be held from 2-4:30 p.m. Sundays; 5-7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays through Sept. 30 at the Charleston County Public Library, 68 Calhoun St. Go to heartsmendhearts.com for more details.

Read full article at Post and Courier.