TORONTO — Art can help express how we feel and how we see the world. It can also help us to reflect and look forward to the future.
Sheri Gundry, is an award-winning professional artist, specializing in visual arts through a variety of mediums. She’s also an expressive arts therapist and six years ago she founded Art With A Heart in the Durham, Ont., region.
“Our main focus is really to affect lives, change lives, build community through the arts. The arts is a way into build relationships, to tear walls in some people’s lives,” says Gundry.
The organization gives participants new ways to communicate and express their emotions in order to build a brighter future based on any past memories they might be holding on to.
Penny Waller is a new participant to the organization. After struggling with the loss of her mother and her decorating job, Waller felt she needed to do something creative to help her through the healing process.
“I was having difficulty breathing and speaking and saying what I felt. Sheri, just gently took me, walked me through some small, short processes,” says Waller.
Dedicated to using the arts to assist and empower people in various situations, these workshops, projects, and programs build confidence and positive relationships while enhancing life skills through mindfulness, movement, painting, sculpture, textile art, drama and drawing.
“Art has a magical component to it. I don’t know there’s something about art period, for everybody. I think whether it’s an image that speaks to your heart or whether it’s something that you create,” says Gundry.
“It’s just a way of creating an outlet of dialogue with themselves and with the rest of the world,” she added.
Programs are customized by trained facilitators in expressive art therapy to address the needs of each participant. Each person expresses art at their own pace and no previous experience is necessary.
“I came originally to just help learn how to focus and manage my stress. I learned how to manage my time a lot better and it also taught me how to instead of just letting things build up, to express your stress in different ways,” says volunteer, Charlene Forde-Smith.
Since launching the organization in 2009, working-artist facilitators of Art With A Heart, share their skills and talents to help people find their creativity.
“I think art gives them a different way into just connecting to places in their character, their emotions that they haven’t been able to get to, and it gets there faster, I think than some traditional talk therapies,” says Gundry.
Facilitators are responsible for directing the programs and workshops and encourage participants to recognize their uniqueness and self-worth in a welcoming environment. Participants can work individually or in groups in order to encourage team building and group mentoring to express common goals and interests in artistic expression.
“It’s been very spiritual for me, it’s been a real anchoring, a re-connection of who I am, who I’ve been made to be and being okay with all of that and expressing it,” says Waller.
Through the artistic programs, participants are able to experiment with different forms of art. The variety of exercises and sessions helps participants to cope with the struggles they are facing in the comfort of their own artistic form that they feel the most connection to.
“People find their voices, people find what’s on their heart,” says Gundry.