Have you ever noticed that art can change your mood? Maybe you have a favorite song that cheers you up or maybe you feel more peaceful when you pick up a paintbrush. Creating art can bring us joy, but it also affects our bodies and minds in significant ways. A 2016 study led by Girija Kaimal, assistant professor of creative arts therapies at Drexel University, explored how making art affects the stress-related hormones in the body. The study found that 45 minutes of creative activity significantly reduces stress in the body, regardless of the individual’s talent or artistic experience. The Arts and Education Council’s Arts and Healing Initiative is demonstrating the critical role the arts play in improving an individual’s health and social well-being.

Last fall, 13 organizations including Saint Louis Crisis Nursery were awarded a total of $115,000 in funding through the Arts and Healing Initiative. Saint Louis Crisis Nursery is using the arts to promote healing among our region’s most vulnerable children. Their Healing Hearts Program provides art and expressive play therapy for children ages 3-12 years whose families are facing challenges such as homelessness and transiency, domestic violence, extreme poverty, parental substance abuse and significant parental health issues.

Over the past year Saint Louis Crisis Nursery has provided more home-based art therapy sessions than ever before using a telehealth approach. After a parent schedules a therapy session, the child receives their own art supply kit, delivered to their home or shelter. Licensed therapists then lead the child through art and expressive play activities virtually in the safety of their home or shelter.

Arts and Education Council Director of Grants and Programs Cynthia Davis shared, “The Arts and Healing Initiative grantees are showing incredible creativity and commitment to the healing of our community. Through virtual, hybrid and distanced programs they’re using the arts to increase healing in new and inspiring ways.”

The positive impact of the Healing Hearts program isn’t just experienced by children. Parents and caregivers also frequently participate in sessions and are coached on how to help their child continue using art and expressive interventions to express feelings and cope with difficult challenges.

The Crisis Nursery therapists often use mandalas as a way for the children to learn and practice mindfulness and grounding techniques. During a recent telehealth session with a family, a parent was invited to participate and chose to design a mandala with her children. As they designed their mandalas, they shared positive, affirming statements with one another and were excited to see their individual designs evolve.

As a family, they noticed how pausing during daily stress and participating in a creative activity together helped them relax and feel closer to one another and themselves. At the end of session, the parent shared how regular sessions were helping both of her children manage their feelings. This is just one example from 169 therapy sessions conducted this year that demonstrates how this program will have a lasting impact in the lives of children and adults.

The Arts and Healing Initiative, in partnership with Missouri Foundation for Health, with additional support from Crawford Taylor Foundation, Missouri Arts Council, Marillac Mission Fund, Graybar and Church on the Rock aims to improve the quality of life for people throughout St. Louis City and County in its first year, and additional Missouri counties in subsequent years.

Applications for the second year of the Arts and Healing Initiative are open through July 1. Learn more and apply here.

Make a gift to the Arts and Education Council today. Your gift furthers our ability to invest in organizations like the Arts and Healing Initiative grantees that make the St. Louis region a more vibrant arts community for all.

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