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Home / Naropa Magazine Fall 2011 / Features / Naropa Community Art Studio International
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Naropa Community Art Studio International

Naropa's Art Therapy program has partnered with Transitions Global, a nonprofit organization that shelters victims of the sex trafficking trade and empowers them to reclaim their lives. According to the United Nations, human trafficking is a global phenomenon affecting an estimated 2.4 million people at any given time. Nearly 80 percent of the girls sheltered with Transitions Global go on to successfully resume their lives, and are not re-trafficked within their first year of independence.

Art therapy is believed to be particularly valuable in working with trauma victims because trauma is stored in parts of the brains that are difficult to access verbally. Art provides a way to express those experiences. Through academic studies and strong clinical training, students in the three-year Art Therapy program learn to use art therapy to help individuals overcome a variety of challenges. Students and faculty are raising funds to support the partnership so they can lend their expertise to the work Transitions Global is doing in Cambodia and other places.

The Art Therapy concentration in Naropa's Transpersonal Counseling Psychology master's program requires 180 hours in the Naropa Community Art Studio. Professor and Art Therapy Program Director Michael Franklin created the studio that opened shortly after September 11, 2001. Since then it has supported marginalized groups from the Boulder community. Naropa Community Art Studio International is an expansion of the initial vision to address the needs of a global community, and has been primarily a student-driven initiative.

In a letter to then-President Stuart C. Lord, students wrote, "Not only does an international art studio project respond to the growing demands of our globalized world, but it also provides us enhanced training to become culturally adept and socially engaged clinicians."

Meg Hamilton is a third-year Art Therapy student and a departmental graduate assistant. She met Pam Harvey at a conference last year, where she and her classmates presented research on using art therapy with individuals who have been trafficked. Harvey volunteers as Transitions Global's Denver-based National Director of Advocacy and Education. Hamilton was instrumental in establishing the partnership, gaining university approval, and planning fundraisers. "I am so excited to be able to bring my passion for this issue into a partnership with Transitions Global and the creation of a component of the Art Therapy program that will focus on this issue," Hamilton says.

Fundraisers have included art auctions, art-making parties, a painting marathon relay, and an art fair. An estimated $18,000 of the $75,000 needed for the initiative's first three years has been raised. Donations to the student scholarship fund may be made through Naropa's Development Office. Funds will support faculty and second- and third-year students' volunteer efforts at Transitions Global sites, including Phnom Penh, Cambodia, in summer 2012.

The painting marathon, part of the Boulder Open Studios Tour, involved 120 participants, three teams, three large canvasses, and forty-eight hours of non-stop painting. "It's been well beyond what I ever imagined, and not just the donations that are still pouring in, but the community involvement and the enthusiasm from the students," says Sue Wallingford, Core Assistant Professor.

On next summer's trip, Art Therapy volunteers will conduct a series of trainings for Transitions Global staff, lead an art therapy workshop, and participate in a community service project. Students will share crafting techniques so the girls can create products to be marketed in the U.S. The partnership will involve students returning each year to continue to build skills among Transitions Global staff and may eventually lead to an internship program.

Hamilton believes Naropa's mindfulness training will be useful in working with trauma survivors. "We are taught numerous ways to bring mindfulness into our work with clients and to use it as a valuable tool for increasing self awareness. A large part of the work of clinicians is to use mindfulness to inform their experience of who they are working with, to stay grounded themselves, and to be able to reflect back to the client experiences that may be parallel to what the client is experiencing," she says.

Wallingford will spend her sabbatical in Cambodia next fall, during which she will conduct research and work with Transitions Global. "It feels like something I want to do to deepen my own personal involvement," she says.

While students won't get credit for their work in Cambodia next summer, Wallingford says it will help them in their careers. "It's going to help them to respond to global needs once they are out in the world doing this work as therapists and healers," she says. "To live in the world as a compassionate being, we have to get up off the cushion and respond to the world's suffering."

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