Dave Kelly (left) teaching art to local people whilst on an art trip to Brazil

“Realising what makes us special” – Art Therapy in ICM

Some time ago my colleagues, Catherine, Carl and Nina proposed an art therapy course for clients to participate in.  The focus was simple – people would not only enjoy the world of creating wonderful pieces of art but also learn something about themselves in the process.

I was immediately hooked, excited to see the results of such an idea such as the creation of social networks naturally empowering individuals and guiding them to where they want to be in life.

I’m a member of a steering group for “With One Voice” (an arts group for those with lived experience to express their voice).  With One Voice began as a showcase event curated by Streetwise Opera at the 2012 Cultural Olympiad in London. For the first time in Olympic history artistic achievements of 300 performers who had experienced homelessness got a platform.

Dave Kelly (centre) in ‘With One Voice’ group picture on art trip

As a member, artist and musician in With One Voice I had the opportunity to travel to Brazil in November 2015, speaking to many organisations and city officials working with homeless people in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.  We talked about the positive impact of arts based work in the UK. As a result of this choirs of homeless people in Rio were formed for the Brazil Olympics in 2016 alongside arts café projects.

With One Voice adopted elements of Brazil’s Homeless People’s Movement into Manchester’s Homelessness Charter. A unique form of co-production between people with lived experience and council officials working together has positive impact on the policies affecting those who are homeless and eliminates barriers they face.

Closer to home, at ICM the Art Therapy kicked off on Tuesday 25th April 2017.  You can see from the photos that there were some really creative things produced.  Mutual respect and peer support was happening throughout the session. We didn’t need to be good at drawing, painting and nor were we expected to create a masterpiece.

“Easy then,” you might say, as all we had to do was create a piece of art and have fun doing this.  But I found this to be a challenge, being more comfortable with stick men (unlike the clients who seemed at ease with it)!  The Art Therapist, Bina, put us all at ease and was incredibly empowering.

The sessions also involve discussion, and provoked a lot of reflection;

“I am currently going through a difficult time at the moment,” said one person, “and if I was to paint by myself I would have probably produced a page with black all over it.  Being a part of a group helped me to create something with loads of colour and the geometric shapes in it symbolise the stability I’m feeling now.”

I also found it moving that a female client (who would ordinarily avoid being around men) came to a session.  The art work she created has been some of the most amazing blend of colours I’ve ever seen. I felt compelled to tell her to never give up.

She looked at me and asked, “Do you really think so?”

“Yes”, I replied don’t ever give it up.”

A few days later she came to the Hub, asked for me personally and together we accessed the flexible fund for oil pastels and other materials to keep her creativity inspired.

Since then, she’s been to the Hub and show me some of the great work she has produced, some of which you can see throughout this blog.  The biggest success is that she knows it’s great work as well!

At the time of writing, we’ve had three sessions.  The group has only had a glimpse of the potential they can achieve.  And the International Homeless Arts Festival is only around the corner, coming to Manchester in 2018.

It’d be amazing to see some of our client’s creations here; acting, music recording, pottery or sculpture from a client led group with the goal of making their mark on multicultural Manchester. I feel that it’s our moral obligation to represent the real and positive stories of homelessness in the local press – and to empower our clients to be heard, not just vocally, but culturally.

I’m coming up to the end of a magical 12 months as a GROW Trainee at Inspiring Change Manchester, and I want to leave you with a final message:

I wish you all the best in the inspiring work you do (often in challenging situations).  I hope that you continue to support clients to realise their full potential in life so they open their eyes to the talents and gifts they possess.  Whether involved with art therapy or not, we have all been part of working alongside people to support them to realise their inner potential and to find another thing that makes them special.

Dave Kelly is now working at LifeShare carrying on the creative and inspiring approach he took to his GROW Trainee placement at Inspiring Change Manchester.

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