MPS Art Therapy & Teens Create Community & Collaborate On 'Good Art: Bad City'
February 5, 2018
by Emma Drew
"At first, I kind of felt skeptical about it," said Gennesis, 17, of her recent collaborative work, "because I'm a shy person, so it was hard for me to actually talk to people." With support and resolve, she soon overcame her reticence. Last fall, Gennesis and nine of her peers displayed, discussed, and invited members of the public to contribute to their series of in-progress murals as part of Good Art: Bad City, a group exhibition held in conjunction with and in the studio space of SVA's MPS Art Therapy program.
The show was a culminating event in the ongoing partnership between the Art Therapy Department and Artistic Noise, an organization that mentors young people who are incarcerated, on probation, or otherwise involved in the justice system, via artistic practice.
The collaboration initiated in the fall with a series of workshops with the young people, like Gennesis, ages 16 to 21, developed by faculty member Liz DelliCarpini and Artistic Noise. Weekly meetings began in the organization's Harlem space, learning about socially engaged art and brainstorming around the question, "what do we want our art to do?". They subsequently shifted to the department's studio space and focused on letting the youth lead the cooperative art-making efforts. This semester will bring more work at SVA with current graduate students and outside groups.
For facilitators, the joint project is an effort to strengthen resources available to youth involved in the juvenile justice system. "It's art in service of support and relationship-building," said DelliCarpini. The project took shape as a mural installation in order to better support the youth's transition to SVA and Chelsea, spaces they were not used to working in. The wall painting offered enough structure and guidance to get them going, an expanded scale on which to work, and an opportunity to making their mark directly on the studio space. Giving the participants leadership roles, and giving over the walls of the institution, granted them agency and the chance to contribute, in contrast to other experiences they may have had. "The juvenile justice system silences kids," DelliCarpini pointed out.
Several weeks of painting and exhibition planning resulted in the Good Art: Bad City reception, held in the studio on November 10, 2017, which also included a pop-up shop with works for sale by Artistic Noise artists. Those in attendance, including invited guests and members of the public, were encouraged to discuss the murals with the artists and were able to participate in the mural-making as well, taking direction from or working collaboratively with the youth cohort. These interactions, built on mutual exchange, respect, and a newly shared vision, are at the core of the community-oriented restorative practice that the initiative and the Department continue to build on. The vividly painted pieces contain personal stories, portraits, famous figures and more symbolic imagery.
"[The visitors] were surprised, because they were like, no artist has ever let us touch their artwork and help them," remarked Gennesis. "No directions, no nothing, no color code? Go ahead and do whatever you want. I want you to feel empowered."
Students stressed the professional practice they gained in presenting to the public, learning how to communicate about their work, sharing their perspectives and hearing new ones. "Everybody had high spirits and uplifted, positive vibes. That was the best thing about it—everybody connected," said youth artist Eli, 19.
The group work and community-based approach helps locate the source of juvenile delinquency in the social context rather than in the individual, explained DelliCarpini. "It's art therapy for the community, too," she said. Participatory and socially engaged art therapy works to change stereotypes held of court-evolved youth and allows the young people to embody their identity as an artist and present themselves as such to others, an important stage of development at this age. "I'm learning more about the fact that my art is important and I do have a power," said Bishop, 20. "And now that I realize that, it's just how far can I take it."
Interest in the partnership with SVA has extended the collaboration initial run. Next week, four of the Good Art: Bad City artists will visit DelliCarpini's Adolescent Art Development class to present their work and provide a workshop for the first year graduate students. "The restorative practice is for the kids to present their work, with [our] support, rather than me presenting their case, which is the traditional model," she said. The group has also said they would like to work with elementary school aged kids to teach them what they have learned. "Every step is the continuation of the therapeutic practice," DelliCarpini emphasized.
The murals remain on view in the MPS Art Therapy Gallery Space, 132 West 21st Street, 5th floor, Monday through Friday, 9:00am – 5:00pm, or by appointment by calling (212) 592-2610. In addition to weekly studio art and art therapy workshops, Artistic Noise offers a robust program of artistic and professional development for the communities they serve, marrying necessary entrepreneurial and creative skills by hiring youth as curators and in other arts administrator roles, and exhibiting in galleries around New York.