We are about half way through 2020 as I write this, a year full of painful challenges which we’ve shared. We’ve had to cope with the dual tragedies of a pandemic causing the loss over 17,000 of our friends and neighbors in New York City so far, as well as feel the outrage of systemic injustices with the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Rayshard Brooks, and too many others to name across generations. These two issues shine a spotlight on racial, economic, and healthcare inequalities. We are far from seeing a conclusion to either, though hopeful moments and change are happening as a result of months of social distancing, selfless actions of front line responders, followed by protesters who continue to march for police accountability and a reallocation of police funding toward social services.
Watercolor Reliefs by M
As we went from February to March, I witnessed the Chinatown/Civic Center area - where the Manhattan Family Justice Center (MFJC) and htE's programming is housed - transform from a place bustling with tourists elbow to elbow alongside residents, to a nearly emptied place where shops began to sell hazmat-type suits, masks and gloves. Businesses overly bleached their facilities because of growing xenophobia as well as genuine fear of a virus which we were not prepared to handle. On March 7th, Governor Andrew Cuomo had declared a state of emergency for New York State, and a few days after, Mayor de Blasio announced that there were confirmed cases of COVID-19 in New York City.
Letters of Support by Various Participants
Face Masks by Sweet Small Something & Dabbler Corner Arts
By March 13th, here there and EVERYwhere anticipated opening for its spring cycle, but predictions suggested cases could explode. For the health and safety of everyone, htE decided it would transition into teaching classes online for the first time ever. The state was then put on PAUSE. With survivors dealing with a rise in isolation and an increased chance of being trapped at home with abusers (see this blog for more), we knew that despite the loss of building access to the usual supplies, the need for survivor support was greater than ever – the mission must go on.
Paper Art by Various Participants
We've been fortunate in that we have an incredible group of creative survivors who make the best of what they have in a given moment. In the spirit of ingenuity and saving the planet, they often reused and repurposed whatever materials they had at home. While some participants who had scrap fabric learned the process of making face masks, most focused their creativity on paper, where junk mail was turned into collages, scrap paper into mandalas or letters with art to first responders and seniors; old books or magazines transformed into 3D book sculptures. I never knew how many different projects could be accomplished with paper, and we’ve only scratched the surface – no doubt there will be more to come in future cycles!
Digital Illustrations by Stalwart
This spring, we also spent more time integrating creative expression and emotional wellness due to the elevated stress & isolating nature of staying at home. Every online session, we spent a little time checking in on each other to laugh, to cry, to just talk and decompress. Just as in person, what is said in the virtual room stays there. During the projects, feelings were communicated through visual art as well as some creative writing workshops; I also had the honor of leading a session on the importance of paying attention to your dreams, and how to take common (and not so common!) kitchen herbs and essential oils into little pillows to improve ones sleep.
Dream Pillows by Dabbler Corner Arts
Crochet and Beads by Cool Beads Boutique
Even better, while the program is off to prepare for its summer cycle now, participants are still checking in online independently, which is a new facet we’ve not seen much of before.
If you’re reading this, and you’ve experienced domestic abuse, sexual assault, or human trafficking, I want to encourage you to try creative expression – you do not need to have arts experience, just a desire to try. Contact htE, and they’ll set you up and notify you via email when and where the next virtual class is happening. The program will remain purely online for now, but as with most organizations, everyone will be keeping their eyes and ears open, adapting as the circumstances call for.
Mandalas by Various Participants & Teaching Artist, Art by April
If you are a supporter of survivors, please consider donating to the program to help here there and EVERYwhere meet immediate expenses and keep the workshops going. Thanks to previous donors, basic arts care packages are in the works, and the hope is with more donations, survivors, especially those in marginalized communities who are experiencing economic hardship, can have the opportunity to experience vocational training with a sewing machine. You can find and share the link at: https://bit.ly/SurvivorsThriveWithArt.
About Annalisa River, Dabbler Corner Arts
Annalisa is one of our dedicated participants, and our Development Manager. She is also a lifelong artist who explores many forms of art, with current focuses on acrylic portrait painting, digital arts, crafts and jewelry. After college, she was fortunate enough to merge her love of computers & psychology with a love of art, working in a technology and marketing company as lead graphic designer when the world was shifting from faxes to the Internet. In the fall of 2002, a near death experience causing chronic illness, pain, environmental illness and extreme weight loss led to a radical and permanent life change. About a decade later, global diagnoses of Hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome and Dysautonomia better helped explain the lifetime constellation of conditions, lingering symptoms and life with permanent, but mostly hidden disabilities. She also lives with PTSD, and creating art is one of her main forms of therapy.
Believing in the importance of making the best out of every day, she adapted, adjusted, and kept beating to her own drum, taking her art, marketing and design skills into the field of healthcare, where she found understanding and could give to others in need in a variety of ways. She was certified as a Reiki Master/Teacher (universal life force energy), Holistic Health Practitioner, and professionally gave guidance in everything from energy medicine to teaching people the essentials of technology and the safe and effective use of social media. Learn more about her and her artistic endeavors here.