The Official Non-Profit Partner for the Affordable Art Fair NYC, Art Therapy Outreach Center (ATOC), focuses on providing free art sessions for survivors of trauma (veterans, the abused, and at-risk youth). Established in 2012, ATOC has dedicated their mission to being a source of encouragement and support in the face of adversity by helping to enrich each victim’s mental and physical health via the healing power of art. Through means such as fundraising and grassroots, ATOC has been able to continue their goals to serve New Yorkers.
Since 2014, the Affordable Art Fair NYC has made a commitment to ATOC to help adults and children of all ages dealing with these traumatic experiences.
Read on to find out why ATOC’s Clinical Program Director, Samantha Commarato, ATR-BC, LCAT, ATCS, believes that art therapy is so beneficial and important!
How did you become an art therapist?
I first learned about Art Therapy in high school. My art teacher told me about a field that combined both psychology and fine art, and involved using art to help people deal with problems. This perfect blend of my two primary interests immediately caught my interest and it has remained a passion for me ever since. I enrolled as a fine arts major at Caldwell College (now Caldwell University), as they had the only undergraduate art therapy certificate program at that time. My first internship at Greystone Psychiatric Hospital at age 19 confirmed that this was the work I was born to do. I completed my undergraduate work in 2002, and spent one year working with at-risk youth. I then attended the Graduate Art Therapy program at SVA, and graduated in 2005 as an Art Therapist. I continue to be fascinated with and rewarded by this work year after year!
Tell us what you love about art therapy.
What I love most about art therapy is its adaptability. Art is universal and can be created and experienced by individuals from any culture, with any range of capabilities and/or skills.
How do children benefit from exposure to art and in particular, from creating works of art themselves?
Exposure to the arts is a great way for kids to learn about history, to develop skills that allow interpretation of visual information, and to develop the capacity to interpret symbolic information. Within the art making process itself, children develop important cognitive skills as well as skills for improved management of emotions, including frustration and disappointment. The process of creating art is both pleasurable and challenging, and offers a necessary outlet for children to communicate their thoughts, feelings and ideas.
What is your most valued memory of working with children in art therapy?
I once managed an intensive mental health program for adolescents. The youths who were enrolled in the program attended five days per week, after school, for about six months. Many came to the program with significant depression and anxiety, and many had experienced trauma such as abuse and neglect. On the first day of program, each new member was shown a large mural of a landscape, upon which former successful “graduates” of the program had painted some animal or element representing their presence in the community. Throughout the course of treatment, group members would watch peers achieve goals and add to the wall, each eager to reach that moment when they too would have a space on the wall. The human need to achieve success, to master, and to experience a sense of positive self worth is a need that at-risk youth frequently do not have the opportunity to fulfil. The privilege to witness the documentation of their success was, and continues to be, my most valued memory of working with children in art therapy. To learn more about ATOC or to donate visit their website for more information.