Guests of the CALM at Heart, Healing Through Art luncheon embraced their inner-artist and learned that creating art can cultivate a positive transformation and be a life-changing remedy for children emotionally scarred from abuse, during an event benefiting the Child Abuse Listening Mediation Art Therapy Program held recently in the Coral Casino at the Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore Santa Barbara.
Founded in 1970, CALM is the only nonprofit agency in Santa Barbara County focused solely on preventing and treating child abuse and family violence through comprehensive cutting-edge programs, such as its Art Therapy Program spearheaded by Christine Scott, clinical art therapist.
“Art therapy is the preferred modality for traumatized children because often children have been lied to and misled by their abuser with language, and it could be very difficult for them to talk about such topics that they may not have the language for,” said Scott, who has worked at CALM for eight years. “And so to show what happened to them through art helps them heal when they can tell their story.”
More than 300 attendees clad in stylish spring dresses and casual business attire happily mingled in the midday sun shining over the seaside terrace as courteous waiters served cool beverages and delicious appetizers, ever mindful of an array of silent auction items lining the length of the glass enclosure.
CALM Executive Director Cecilia Rodriguez was all smiles as she shook hands and exchanged warm hugs with friends, supporters and colleagues, and shared her enthusiasm about the art program with Noozhawk.
“CALM’s Art Therapy groups help decrease the survivors’ sense of isolation and provide a safe place for survivors to tell their stories with courage,” she said. “By exercising their creativity, sexual abuse survivors restore a sense of hope for the future.”
When the crowd flowed into the adjacent ballroom for lunch, they were surprised to find that the elegant ballroom had been transformed into an art studio. Tables were covered with butcher paper, and each place setting came equipped with a small blank canvas, a set of paint brushes and a rinse jar beside a color wheel palette with blue, gray and white paint.
Guests eagerly grabbed the white CALM aprons from the back of their chairs and settled into their seats, ready to dive in and stir their creative juices, while others looked a bit perplexed and slightly overwhelmed at the prospect of applying paint to anything other than fingernails.
Standing on a platform in the middle of the room, committee member Anne Youngling put everyone at ease, saying a little anxiety was normal. The painting activity focused on each guest’s variation of blue hydrangeas and was followed by an informative slideshow presentation titled, “The Healing Power of Art Therapy,” that Scott shared to educate the group about the program.
Guests were encouraged and spurred on by a Painted Cabernet instructor and a handful of assistants who encircled the room offering advice and encouragement to help guests create their own floral masterpieces.
It wasn’t long before the room livened up with bursts of laughter and chatter that floated over the 1970s rhythm-and-blues tunes playing in the background, reinforcing that everyone was having a great time.
Scott explained that art therapy is a modality of psychotherapy that uses art to facilitate change in the client, and that the client’s unconscious feelings can often be more immediately expressed with visual images and metaphors.
That fact became clearly evident to onlookers when pictures drawn by sexually abused children in the program emerged onscreen depicting images of lopsided homes with rain clouds overhead, broken hearts, and angry, disheveled faces. Other disturbing images included drawings of human figures with dark scribbled circles omitting genitals or crude, phallic-like objects.
“A child’s picture always communicates a feeling,” said Scott, who helps clients in the program encapsulate pictures into feeling words and emotional language, such as “I am scared.”
Scott noted that over time, art therapy group members reported a sense of well-being after expressing such long-buried feelings.
Colorful illustrations drawn in crayon referenced within the slideshow showed enlarged, smiling faces holding bold red hearts, rainbows and stick figures that indicated the social and emotional impact art therapy has made with clients who have enrolled in the program — art therapy promotes self-expression rather than self-repression.
“I see about 20 children annually myself, personally in individual art therapy,” Scott said.
CALM also has an array of evidence-based art therapy programs, including teen (ages 14 to 17), teen girls (ages 11 to 13) and domestic violence children’s group (ages 5 to 12).
Each program has six children per art therapy group, and the next open cycle is scheduled for June.
“The art therapist’s viewing and acceptance of the artwork helps the clients begin to see and accept their own story,” Scott said. “Art therapy fosters resiliency.”
The afternoon concluded with a delicious lunch and a greeting from Rodriguez, who spoke about the dangers of child abuse and reminded everyone about the “I Will Not Be Silent” campaign, promoting adults to speak out against child abuse. District Attorney Joyce Dudley followed as the host of a vibrant live auction that generated a buzz of interest.