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Art for Hope- Cleveland

Art for Hope 2017

Community members came together for a veterans art show and to make their own Ohio-themed artwork on the evening of May 10, at 100th Bomb Group in Cleveland.

Pieces made through art therapy classes at The Veterans Domiciliary at Wade Park and Cleveland Veterans Resource Center were on display.

Volunteers of America of Greater Ohio teamed up with Artists Uncork'd to host a special art class where guests painted unique masterpieces, celebrating the Buckeye state. Painters had the option to keep their art or share it with a veteran.

In attendance was Laurel Larson, a Registered Art Therapist with Volunteers of America of Greater Ohio, who helps show veterans the impacts of art therapy.

"It's important to meet each veteran where they are, meaning not putting any of your own expectations on them and having empathy toward them," she said. "Each veteran will be in a different emotional, spiritual and physical place."

She leads open-studio groups at The Veterans Domiciliary at Wade Park that allow veterans to choose what they work on.

Some veterans use the time to work on reducing anxiety and stress to help ground themselves, while others use it to look at themselves and their addiction or trauma and make a tangible piece of art that expresses that.

Larson explained specifically how art therapy can help veterans come to terms with what they are struggling with.

One piece of art that was on display at Art for Hope was a pale grey face mask, with silver needles jutting out and nails sticking out of the eyes and mouth.

"This was made by a heroin addict. She wanted to represent the pain her addiction has caused her over the years," Larson said. "The nails symbolize how the drug has silenced her and the color of the mask is reminiscent of the skin tone of someone who has overdosed."

After the art is created, participants talk about their work with the rest of the class, to help them better understand their feelings and meaning of what they've made.

"That's a significant part of the class. A lot of people have their 'A-Ha!' moment in art therapy where they realize maybe they're powerless over their addiction or they have more processing to do about a certain trauma," said Larson. "People find that art therapy is a creative outlet they didn't know they needed, or that they had the skill or desire to create."

Larson also co-leads cognitive behavioral therapy groups, alongside a social worker, for veterans at the Cleveland Veterans Resource Center. The program is 8 weeks and each week is a different theme, building on previous week's themes. For example, the first week is an introduction to cognitive behavioral therapy then the next week is about active listening, followed by art therapy. It's generally more structured of a class then the open-studio groups.

Even after veterans have found permanent housing and employment and left Volunteers of America's program, they are encouraged to continue art therapy as a coping mechanism and welcome to come back to classes once a week.