Art museums are typically thought of as institutions for studying, learning and exploring the world of artistic masterpieces. Now, therapists and museum staff at the IU Eskenazi Museum of Art will make an art museum a place for healing.
The museum will begin providing art therapy in fall 2019 to children who have suffered from neglect or abuse with the new Sara and Bob LeBien Arts-Based Wellness Pilot Program.
“In my experience, art has been a really good way for children to express themselves in ways that maybe they wouldn’t have been able to with words,” program leader and therapist Lauren King said.
The program has partnered with Monroe County Court Appointed Special Advocates, a volunteer program that advocates for children in court proceedings, to provide care for the children CASA helps. If the children are already undergoing traditional therapy, King said she will be in contact with their therapists to facilitate continuity of care.
Before being hired to lead the new project, King worked as a clinician for the Eskenazi Health Midtown Community Mental Health center. She earned a master’s degree in art therapy from Herron School of Art and Design at IUPUI, writing her thesis on the implementation of art therapy in museums.
The new initiative is distinct from others because it will use traditional creative art therapy while also showing children museum spaces. King said while creating art can help people express emotions, looking at artwork in a museum setting can remind people of personal experiences.
“I’ve never done a program like this before, but I think it’s going to be beyond impactful to these children,” King said.
Museum spaces are underutilized by communities because they may foster a sense of elitism, said Eileen Misluk, director of art therapy at the Herron School of Art and Design at IUPUI. Bringing in art therapy can help expand and connect museums with their wider communities.
“Our museums become more reflective of our communities that we live in,” Misluk said. “They become more reflective of our experience as humans and as people.”
Eskenazi Museum director David Brenneman said he hopes the program’s museum setting will help people feel comfortable and begin to heal.
“We’re not hospitals,” Brenneman said. “We don’t pretend to be hospitals. But we are places that are safe spaces.”
While children will be the first to experience the Eskenazi Museum’s program, King said she hopes to include people with disabilities and older adults with memory problems in the future.
King said she would love for the art therapy initiative to grow so much that the program needs to hire more mental health professionals.
“That would be my ultimate goal, is for us to have a really robust art therapy program here and have more than just me on staff,” King said.