The work of art

Vocational arts display at the Statehouse

I lead a double life as an artist. I have my “work art” and my “art art.” Let me tell you a bit about the “work art.” As an art therapist in a rehab program, I run a vocational arts program. Now this might seem like a contradiction to some. As an art therapist, my role is to encourage the free expression of thought and emotion via the art materials. As a vocational arts coach, my role is to teach people how to make specific salable items using particular materials. I may very well work with someone in an art therapy group in the morning  and work with that same person in the vocational arts program in the afternoon.

There is no doubt in my mind that the artwork done as part of the vocational arts program is expressive and that creating it is therapeutic. But this is a very different ball of wax from art therapy and I am not going to tackle the topic of the goals of art therapy today. The goals of the vocational arts program differ in some significant ways from the art therapy program. In the vocational art program, clients are taught how to use particular materials and employ craftsmanship and design skills. They are involved in every aspect of the business, from working events to ordering materials. They are paid for all of their efforts. The program aims to develop strong vocational skills to prepare clients for their return to the community. They learn to plan their work time, complete tasks, keep an orderly work space, interact effectively with their co-workers, and engage with the public.

There are two main benefits to this program. One is that people working in the program have fun. Yes, fun. We enjoy our work and enjoy each other. The other is that the clients learn transferable skills. I don’t expect that many of them will set up their own crafting business upon discharge from the hospital. But the skills they learn in this program apply to any type of work situation. The work group has grown close, a rarity in the hospital environment. They support and encourage each other and ooh and ahh over each others’ work. Some clients work alone on their items and some work closely with me to create their pieces. As long as it stays fun, we will keep on with the “work” of art.


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