“For me, painting is a way to look inward, and for others I think art can be an opportunity to express themselves outwardly - something that might not come easily. Either way, I think the power is in the story. Artistic expression offers the opportunity to share parts of ourselves we might not otherwise share.” –Lindsay Walz
Arts & Healing Network is delighted to present one of the 2013 AHN Awards to Lindsay Walz, artist and founder of courageous heARTS, an organization empowering youth through expressive arts. We are truly impressed with how she not only used artmaking to recover from her own personal trauma, but is sharing the healing power of art with others. We applaud her creative vision and generous spirit!
To learn more about Lindsay Walz and courageous heARTS, please visit the courageous heARTS web site. Click here to watch an inspiring video about her creative journey.
Below is an interview by Arts & Healing Network Director Mary Daniel Hobson with Lindsay Walz from November 2013.
Mary Daniel Hobson: I am so moved by how you turned to art to help heal after you survived a major bridge collapse. Was there a particular medium or process that was the most healing for you?
Lindsay Walz: After the bridge collapse, I spent five days in the hospital recovering from a broken vertebra. Shortly after coming home, I received a community education flyer and one of the classes was something called Soul Painting. I hadn’t even begun to scratch the surface of my emotional recovery, but knew that it would be a long journey ahead. I knew my soul would need work, and this class seemed like a good first step. The class description gave me courage to explore my creative side -- a side I had shied away from starting in high school when I decided I wasn’t “good enough” to be an artist. I signed up immediately and a few weeks later walked in with a body encased in a hard plastic shell.
My first painting paved the way for my recovery. An ugly, brown river cut across the page. On one side of the river, I began using black, red and gray -- colors I associated with the anger, pain and sadness I had just begun to feel. My brush cut across the white paper with ragged, harsh strokes. As I painted these emotions I began to think about all of the reasons I had to celebrate. My life was a gift, and I had been surrounded by the love and support of family, friends and strangers. I recognized that amidst the pain there was so much to be grateful for -- so on the other side of the river, I began painting with bright “happy” colors the circles of support I had been given. The paradox of these two sides of the river -- the pain and the joy -- became a source of hope and comfort throughout my recovery. My paintings have given me the opportunity to tell my story to myself -- to explore my emotions, to gain new insights and to reclaim who I am.
Mary Daniel: What is your creative practice like today? Do you still turn to art for healing?
Lindsay: Over the past year, most of my creative energy has gone into the creation of courageous heARTS. I still paint, and now I get to explore all kinds of creative outlets through our programming. My most recent artistic work was to transform the brace that I wore for five months to heal my broken back into a canvas. It is titled “Healing Embrace” and is the first piece of art that I have ever shown publicly. It was a powerful and healing experience in and of itself to know that the broader community appreciated my work. This piece is my story, but it’s also the community’s story. It was a way for me to memorialize the thirteen lives that were lost on August 1, 2007.
Mary Daniel: Why do you think that art can be such a powerful catalyst for healing and positive change?
Lindsay: For me, painting is a way to look inward, and for others I think art can be an opportunity to express themselves outwardly - something that might not come easily. Either way, I think the power is in the story. Artistic expression offers the opportunity to share parts of ourselves we might not otherwise share. It can also be a safe refuge from everyday life.
In addition to healing emotional wounds, I think there are many people who need to heal their creative wounds. There are so many messages in our world about perfection and doing things the “right way.” I fell into that trap and didn’t feed my creative spirit for many years. At courageous heARTS we’ve developed “Principles of Process” that guide our classes, and hopefully help to combat the product-driven mindset that can get in the way of true expression:
Art is about a story, not a skill.
Your story matters.
Dig deep. Be courageous.
Imagination leads to possibility.
There are no mistakes, just opportunities.
Feel from the heart and have fun!
Mary Daniel: What inspired you to found courageous heARTS? Tell me about your vision for this organization.
Lindsay: At the age of sixteen, I was chosen to be a youth representative on the founding board of a new organization in my hometown community. This experience was the inception for my dream of one day opening my own youth center. Living in Minneapolis made that dream pretty ambitious, but I never let go of it. The day the bridge fell -- when I had no comprehension of how I survived -- I remembered that dream and it gave me a reason why I survived and why I needed to heal. When art came into my life again, it became clear that my professional life as a youth worker and my personal experience of healing through artistic expression could be a catalyst for the organization I always dreamed about.
At courageous heARTS we hope to offer youth a spectrum of expressive arts opportunities so they can explore their skills, talents and identities -- and discover a positive coping skill for their heart wounds (traumas) whether now or in the future. Our trauma-informed approach doesn’t make us exclusive to trauma, but instead inclusive of those experiences. We also utilize restorative practices such as the Circle Process to build community and provide youth with another expressive outlet where their voice is heard and valued.
Mary Daniel: Can you share a story of a child who has had a transformative experience at courageous heARTS?
Lindsay: Our afterschool programming is only two months old, but I’ve already seen the confidence in our participants grow as they explore their creative side. There is one young person who continues to proclaim that he is not an artist, yet unprompted, he will pull out paints and paper and get completely absorbed in a creative venture. Another youth came to his first class with some natural artistic talent that had been encouraged by his family; at the end of the first class, he asked if he could dump over his paint palette on the paper. He was amazed when the answer was yes and spent the next few weeks exploring the color and texture of the paint without worrying about the outcome. Other youth have shared very personal experiences and talked about the impact of courageous heARTS in their lives. I’m so proud to know all of the youth who have participated so far, and look forward to watching them grow into strong and courageous adults.
Mary Daniel: One of the things that impresses me about creative heARTS is the youth advisory board. What role does that group have? How did you identify kids who were ready for this role?
Lindsay: The Youth Advisory Board (YAB) is an essential element of courageous heARTS! These AWESOME young people, who were recruited from the neighborhood and by their peers, have been with me since May and are my partners in developing programming. Initially they just needed to have an interest in helping out, but have since shown themselves to be committed stewards of the mission of courageous heARTS.
The YAB picks the classes that are offered and helps with outreach among their peers. As we continue to grow, this group will be instrumental in evaluating our classes and continuing to guide the direction of the organization. One of the co-chairs of the YAB also attends Board of Director meetings and is a voting member. Creating an organization for youth WITH youth is a core value of my youth worker identity and something I learned from the work of Gisela Konopka and others who believe in the value of youth voice.
Mary Daniel: What excites you most right now in your work?
Lindsay: I’m most excited by the light in people’s eyes when I talk with them about courageous heARTS -- whether it is a young person who is told about our open studio days and given permission to explore our supplies and just create, or a professional who understands the impact our program can have on the lives of the youth they serve. I am wholly and deeply renewed in those moments and ready to keep going. This work is not complicated and amidst a world of constantly changing interventions and curriculums, I think people are refreshed by the simplicity and understand, at a visceral level, the positive impact it can have.
Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for other artists who would like to use their creativity to help heal themselves or others?
Lindsay: Find the time and the space you need to feed your creative spirit. After I started painting, I created a space in my house so I could paint whenever I wanted. I found that I never used that space because there always seemed to be something more pressing to do if I was home. The “shoulds” got in the way. Instead of beating myself up about it (which, if I’m honest I still did) I recognized that going to someone else’s studio and committing to a class with other participants was what I needed to do to maintain my creative practice. For helping to heal others, I think it’s the same thing. Create space for healing. If they need to use it, they will. If they don’t, they’ll have a fantastic tool for coping when the time comes. Withhold judgment, challenge the inner critic, support goofiness and recognize courage when you see it.
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