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Art as a Lifeline to Healing

Art as a Lifeline to Healing

Chains hold you back and the darkness of the past overwhelms your being. They pull you down to the black nothingness that is the end. You fear you won’t get through. You fear that this is all you’ll ever be. However, cure hope is always hovering above you stretching its hand out towards you. Waiting, waiting for you to stretch out your hand and say, “I’m ready, please help me out of this prison.” But like darkness to light this is a process. Just like darkness fades to light, like night turns to day, and like fear turns to hope, the past fades into the background and lets you walk into your future.
— Samantha, age 14, Drawing pictured above

Art heals. This is probably not news to you by virtue of the fact that you are reading a publication devoted to the arts. However, you might not be aware of how much of a lifeline art is to our community’s most vulnerable.

The Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center sees the most severe cases of child abuse in Dallas County. Children’s deaths as a result of abuse also come through the Center. One in every four girls and one in every six boys will be sexually abused before their 18th birthday, and only one in ten will tell, according to national statistics. The Dallas Children’s Advocacy Center’s average client is a ten-year-old female who has been sexually abused by someone she knows and trusts. Last year alone, the DCAC provided services to 2,500 abused children from every zip code in the city.

Traditionally, once these young victims reached out for help, they had to endure a gauntlet of law enforcement officials, health care providers, social workers and others by repeatedly recounting their tales of horror, which essentially re-victimized them. When the Center opened its doors in 1991, it became a national pioneer. Its streamlined process of a single, videotaped forensic interview, facilitated in an age-appropriate way, in a child friendly environment, has provided the transition from victim to survivor to the approximately 25,000 minors, ages 0-17, who have benefited from its services. DCAC provides a unique multi-disciplinary approach to the investigation, treatment and prosecution of child abuse cases, making sure the child gets the help that he or she needs and the perpetrator goes to jail.

Healing comes through a variety of therapies, including art and music. Additionally, the Center uses therapy dogs who can help calm the nerves of a frightened child or anxious parent. The children choose the dog that will accompany them on their therapeutic journey. Once the first step of trust is established, the work of healing can begin.

“When clients first come in, we do an assessment to see what their therapy needs are,” says Dr. Ashley Lind, the Center’s Chief Program Officer. In addition to individual therapy, group and family therapy are offered as well as psychological and psychiatric counseling. “From there, we develop a plan and choose a modality that will work for that child,” adds Lind.

In art therapy, therapists have their clients begin simply, with pen and pencil and then gradually work up to increasingly sensory media, such as sand and clay. This therapy helps the children grow increasingly self-confident and insightful. Every year, the Center holds a themed exhibition for the children. This year’s theme is “Art of Hope.” The work submitted to this exhibition is not part of the child’s therapy. The children work in the medium of their choosing. They also provide a statement about their work, either using their own names and ages or pseudonyms. These images are used on holiday cards, in the annual report, and on thank you notes to donors.

Art therapy works. According to Lind, “Recovery is possible and the children have access to whatever they need to enhance their recovery. With intervention, the potential for difficulties associated with exposure to child abuse are reduced. All that you know isn’t all that there is.”

Therapy services are available to clients for as long as necessary. Since it can take years for a case to reach court, the Center is there to provide counseling prior to court dates. When the clients have to testify, they go with an arsenal of District Attorneys, Dallas County law enforcement, Child Protective Services, Forensic Interviewers, and therapists to support them. Sometimes years after recovery these clients return to the Center to continue counseling, especially as they become parents themselves.

The Center long ago outgrew its Victorian mansion on Swiss Avenue. However, plans to move into a new 56,000 square foot facility in East Dallas have been postponed due to multiple thefts and vandalism at the new site. With luck, the new facility will open in December.

The excitement over the move is palpable throughout the building. Lind looks forward to an enlarged art therapy program with the addition of fully detailed music and art therapy rooms. The latter will also include space for pottery.

Hoping Trees: When the trees grows your hope grows. When an apple grows
your happiness and once more a chance of life. — Janeth, age 11.

The Center does not charge for its services. With only 25% of their funding coming from public sources, the DCAC relies heavily on donations and special programming to make their work possible. Once abuse is reported, Dallas County law enforcement or CPS gets involved, immediately removing children from dangerous situations and bringing them to the Center where they often arrive with only the clothes on their backs. In addition to monetary gifts, the Center accepts donations of new clothes, diapers, and toys. Gift cards for these necessities as well as for art supplies are also welcome. According to Chris Culak, the Chief Development Officer, the Center is working on an Amazon.com wish list where donors may help purchase art supplies among other necessities to support the Center’s mission. Among the in-kind donations the Center receives are quilts provided by the Dallas Quilters Guild and offered to each child.

Since music and art therapies are critical components of the Center’s work, two annual events target these specific communities — the concert series Encore for Advocacy and the auction Art + Advocacy.

Now in its sixth year, Art + Advocacy is the Center’s largest annual fundraising event. This year’s event includes an Art Preview on Tuesday, October 30, followed by a live and silent auction on Thursday, November 1, both at the Fashion Industry Gallery (F.I.G.). According to Alexis O’Connell, the Senior Development Officer, last year’s event netted over $400,000 for the organization.

“This auction is unique because there is a direct tie to the healing power of art,” says O’Connell. This year, the event will auction work from over 80 prominent artists, represented by over a dozen local galleries. The gallerists themselves are also supporters of the Center’s mission, with many serving on the Art Committee.

This year’s Art Chairs are Laura Green of Valley House Gallery and Jordan Roth of Ro2 Art. Green is as impressed with the Center as she is with the artists who have agreed to donate their work, saying, “There is a natural connection because there is an art therapy program involved. We recognize that these artists are making significant donations because they believe in what the Center is doing.” The children’s exhibition will also be on display at the event.

This year’s auction will also have an educational component to it, with Gail Sachson of Ask Me About Art serving as the Art Guide. She will be at both events to discuss the significance of the donated work. Bidders may also make private appointments to view the work in advance. In addition to a published auction catalogue, the work may also be previewed online.

The success of Art + Advocacy is matched only by the successes celebrated regularly at the Center. “Healing, recovery and hope are real,” says Lind. O’Connell adds, “This is a hopeful, transformative place. Kids are resilient. It is amazing to see.”

—NANCY COHEN ISRAEL


Art + Advocacy benefit at Fashion Industry Gallery (F.I.G.) in downtown Dallas; Art Preview, Tuesday, October 30; Art Auction, Thursday, November 1.