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St. Anthony and Oklahoma City Museum of Art team up for children's art outlet

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Usually, a crisis brings children to St. Anthony Behavioral Medicine Center.

“It’s something they can’t deal with,” said recreational therapist Julie Costilla. “Somebody, maybe family, somebody at school, the legal system or sometimes even the kids know something’s not right and they come to the hospital.”

Children and teenagers often can’t verbalize what’s going on with them emotionally, she said. But a partnership with Oklahoma City Museum of Art’s (OKCMOA) Healing Arts program gives them an outlet for their feelings. The museum recently received a $7,750 Oklahoma City Community Foundation grant to continue the program.

Amanda Harmer, OKCMOA outreach and early learning manager, has met with patients at St. Anthony’s monthly since 2012.

“The Healing Arts outreach program lets us visit people who might not be able to visit the museum,” Harmer said.

That includes St. Anthony, The Children’s Hospital at OU Medical Center, Jim Thorpe Rehabilitation and work with patients with Alzheimer’s and dementia.

“Most people have some connection to art,” she said. “For the kids at St. Anthony’s, we’re the only art education, so we teach them some core art concepts.”

Costilla said the children love the monthly art classes.

“Art offers them an outlet for their feelings and a way to be creative,” she said. “It’s a distraction sometimes, a distraction from worrying about something going on in their family, their life or their school.”

It’s also a boon for the staff, Costilla said.

“Amanda is so creative and energetic and positive,” she said. “She comes up with projects that challenge the kids but also give them a chance to be successful. They’re eager to take their projects home, to take them to their parents so they’ll be safe at home. There’s a sense of pride in them.”

Harmer said the art projects change each month, but the goal stays the same.

“It can be frustrating and hard, and things don’t always turn out the way they want them,” Harmer said. “So I try to do things they can feel successful about.”

Most projects, including printmaking and painting, are done within the hour, but recently she brought in clay ornaments for them to glaze. She worked with them to help fire the pottery, and the results were gorgeous. The children didn’t want to stop after one layer of glaze; they painted and repainted the ornaments. When the pieces were complete, Harmer said, they were beautiful.

Costilla said art lessons help kids build coping mechanisms that come in handy later in life.

“You might see someone draw something or color something violent, but typically, what we’re trying to do is channel those angry feelings into something positive,” she said.

Instead of lashing out or getting upset, she said, they can refocus on how creating art made them feel better.

“When you’re younger, you don’t think of all the other things you can do,” Costilla said. “You get older and you develop filters when situations bother you. When you’re young, you just do things. We try to get them to slow down and think.”

Harmer meets with therapists before classes to help guide her to projects that benefit the kids and avoid unwanted emotional triggers.

“Safety is always a concern,” she said. “We have to make sure the materials we use are safe and appropriate.”

Since many of the children visit the behavioral medicine center over a series of months, Harmer bonds with them and gets to know them.

“At the end of the session, the therapist will usually ask them questions about the class,” Harmer said. “Sometimes, it’s hard to tell if you’re making an impact if a kid is quiet and reserved.”

She said hearing them talk about how much they enjoyed the class and what they learned is amazing.

When they’re ready to visit the museum, Harmer also shows them works that inspire her, Costilla said.

“We meet at the museum, and she shows them around and introduces them to art,” Costilla said.

Visit okcmoa.com.

Print headline: Artistic outlets, St. Anthony and OKC Museum of Art teach children how to express emotions through creativity.

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