Spotlight on NHSCA Arts Partnership Conference 2021-2022
In fall 2021 and spring 2022 the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts and the New Hampshire Department of Education presented Embodied Healing: An Arts-Integrated Approach to Repairing and Restoring Ourselves.
The intention of this special program was to address the difficulty to heal, recharge, and access our creativity due to the years of being overwhelmed by the pandemic. We saw the exhaustion of educators, teaching artists, and service providers, and the impossibility of moving forward. It had become clear that we must make time and space to rebuild our community and explore the centrality of the arts to our healing and wellbeing, something clearly demonstrated by the pandemic. Participants were invited to focus on their experience over the past two years while gaining knowledge and skills in this uniquely designed experiential conference.
This convening, historically our biannual Arts Education Conference for arts educators and teaching artists, is now an integrated Arts Partnership Conference that incorporates both the education and healthcare communities. Through this integration, the Arts Council is laying the groundwork for a wider arts conference moving forward. The convening is designed for educators, teaching artists, artists working in healthcare and public health, and individuals who directly deliver behavioral health-related services.
Emily Read Daniels and Catherine Stewart co-led all sessions and presenting artists were invited to facilitate arts experiences for attendees at each location. Catherine Stewart is a freelance writer, director, dramaturg, and projection designer working in theatre and film. Emily Daniels is an internationally recognized trauma specialist in the trauma-informed schools movement and is the founder of HERE this NOW, a trauma-informed consulting firm. Our presenting artists engaged participants in invigorating dance and movement that inspired light and energy at each session: Anthony Bounphakhom in Laconia, Amanda Whitworth in Gorham, and Sarah Duclos in Jaffrey. Theo Martey joined us in Derry and guided the group in drumming, collective rhythm-making, song and movement.
Through the engagement with our phenomenal team, participants had the opportunity to gain an understanding of collective trauma for collaborative healing using the context of community art making (via exercises in drawing, writing, dance, music, and theatrical scenes). In this, they contextualized their experience during the pandemic and utilized art as the primary modality for returning to a place of centeredness and self-regulation. The goals were to rejuvenate with an arts-integrated approach, gain knowledge about somatic stress and resilience, use art-based skills for cultivating felt safety, and process and share what each had been carrying.
These experiences and tools were intended both for attendees’ own restoration and to be brought back to their communities for support of those they serve.
Our conference was in person. This program functioned best as an in-person experience and the need to be back together for our community was palpable. This was confirmed when we met for the first time. In order to safely gather, we convened the same program at four pop-up style, small gatherings around the state that were free to join: in November at the Colonial Theatre in Laconia and at the Medallion Opera House in Gorham, in March at the Stockbridge Theatre in Derry, and in April at the Park Theatre in Jaffrey. We followed COVID safety protocols as required by each venue. (Due to the surge in COVID cases in winter 2021, the last two sessions were postponed until spring 2022.)
The sessions were powerful experiences and each had its own unique energy based on the multiple facets of that day, including the specific group, the agenda, the physical space, geographic location, time, and participating presenting artist. We witnessed firsthand the great rhythm of Emily and Catherine’s co-facilitation and the intentional waves of navigating the participants from lighter activities to heavier ones, and then back to lightness; the safe space that they created. We saw the impact of these exercises, the sharing, emotion, relationship building, and in some cases the remarkable vulnerability possible, in a group of strangers, in a short amount of time. The spirit that the presenting artists brought by leading participants in dance, music, singing, percussion, and rhythm making was quite magical and invigorating. Attendees shared with us their positive thoughts on the experience – that it was stimulating, inspiring, thoughtful, healing, educational, supportive, and so good to be together once again.
To dig deeper into this topic, we wanted to share a few related articles and resources, and will continue to update the spotlight with relevant links.