The Inspiring Power of Art

11838915_964791370210896_4097285521682258380_oThis Monday, the auditorium on our Pasadena campus was packed during a back-to-school assembly on the first day of school at our Hillsides Education Center (HEC). The school is full, with 84 students, 20 of them new. As the children settled into their seats, HEC Director Ryan Eisenberg tested the children’s knowledge of the school. Dozens of children excitedly raised their hands and quickly and confidently rattled off the school colors (black and red), the mascot (a hawk) and what GROWTH, the school’s social-emotional program, stands for (generous, respectful, optimistic, willing, tenacious, and honest). Judging from the level of engagement in the room, it looks like a start to a great school year.

The challenge to academically motivate and interest students can be daunting, especially when dealing with students who may, at any given time, be preoccupied and distracted by the traumas they have experienced. In addition to the three Rs, HEC offers students various therapeutic educational activities from recreation and vocational instruction to the expressive arts. The key is to identify a child’s passion and leverage that to educate.

Each child is so different, and it is important to be creative and resourceful. From my experience, art tends to be one of the most approachable activities because it does not require great skill or instruction but only the desire to express one’s self. Over and over again, I have been moved by what our residents express in the art they generate. They are pieces that touch the heart, stir the imagination, and give a glimpse of the dreams these student artists have.

In preparation for an art exhibit the students and the children living in our residential treatment program will have this weekend, one adolescent girl depicted an angel stepping out of a cage. She talked about the painting as a metaphor for her return home, ready to move beyond the protective environment of Hillsides and prepare for what lays ahead. What a powerful image that marks an important juncture in her life. Like so many others, art expresses what words often fail to capture and offers an emotional statement of what is being felt and experienced.

The art program at Hillsides is an indispensable therapeutic tool for those we serve. One of the great collateral benefits of the program is the occasional art exhibit. It is a proud celebration of raw talent that gives a glimpse into the complex lives of the children we serve. This weekend’s exhibit, “Expressions: An Art Exhibit by the Children of Hillsides,” will be held on Saturday, August 22, from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at SPACE Arts Center, located at 1506 Mission St, South Pasadena, CA 91030. There will be a short program at 6:45 p.m. We are very fortunate to have RBC Wealth Management as a sponsor for this event, and we invite everyone to drop by this opening reception whenever you get a chance on Saturday night. If you can’t make the reception, the show will remain at SPACE until September 4.

The expressive arts are an important aspect of the treatment services offered at Hillsides — important enough that the $12 million proposed capital improvements to the campus will provide for an improved and expanded art studio to support this essential component of care.

Again, please join us on August 22 as we celebrate the art of our residents and students. We hope you will be inspired by their emotional expression and support their resiliency.


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