Alive and Well Communities Director of Training and Technical Assistance Sean Marz says the arts can be a powerful tool when working with trauma. “Words are complex. Words can be hard,” he explained. “Art provides different modalities for people to express themselves. There are many paths to healing.”

In 2017, COCA, a grantee of the Arts and Education Council, started to explore trauma awareness through Alive and Well’s free trainings and soon began a partnership. Since then Alive and Well Communities has trained five staff members at COCA, allowing them to train all administrative staff, teaching artists and camp employees.

“We cannot enrich lives and build community through the arts without a trauma aware lens. It is virtually impossible. We are in the ‘business’ of people,” COCA Director of Education Abby Crawford explained when the partnership was announced in late 2018.

While art can provide opportunities for healing and for building resilience, it’s also important to recognize that it’s not therapy.

Crawford said, “We can each work to provide an environment where folks feel safe, loved and valued…and we don’t have to know a thing about their trauma or be a therapist to do so.”

In the past year, COCA has provided five cycles of training to staff and community partners. During their most recent training in January, local teachers and teaching artists from Arts and Education Council grantee Shakespeare Festival St. Louis also participated.

Crawford says feedback from participants has been incredibly positive. The shift in thinking from “what’s wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?” allows for a safe and brave space for people who interact with COCA’s programs.

“The strongest intervention for another person who has experienced trauma is a long-standing secure and stable relationship with an adult,” Crawford shared. “When we phrase it that way for our artists — the tears come and the lightbulb goes off because they instantly without prompting can picture the child that they’ve worked with for whom they have already been that person. So when it hits them — that is powerful and it happens in every workshop we give.”

For more information about trauma aware communities visit Alive and Well Communities at