As president, I volunteered to write the first offering. I, Val Valentine, make this disclaimer now: this blog is my personal reflections and current understandings, all of which are subject to change as they evolve.
As I move into my third year of leadership with NMATA, I reflect on how much I have been stretched and expanded by this position and this association. This blog offering is my examination of multi-facets of the current challenge within the art therapy profession and within our nation, and some of my personal conclusions to date that help me find balance and optimism during this incredibly challenging time in human history.
Last year, NMATA worked extremely hard and with great enthusiasm to host the annual AATA conference. We spent many months in meetings planning together with our membership, many hours of preparation for the four ways we were asked to serve as host. We created a beautiful and moving memorial alter; a welcoming and warm hospitality hub; a fun and interactive closing event with live band, table art, and 20 handmade door prizes; and the amazing Gesture of Warm service project that gave conference attendees the opportunity to come together to knit and crochet gifts for the homeless of ABQ. This NMATA Service Project resulted in the creation of over 230 hand-made scarves, hats, and much needed items of warmth for the most at-risk and marginalized in our State. This donation, valued at approximately $2000, was made possible by the contributions of individual art therapists coming together during the conference, creating, and serving the greater good.
But I want to validate something larger that was served through this beautiful project – it served as a meeting place, a place of calm debate, a common activity of giving that helped to process the pain and frustration within us. This project served as a bridge.
It pains me to own, that art therapy as a profession has always been split. Just as we were emerging from the “art as” or “art in therapy” split, coming to fully embrace the wisdom of both as our own, now we have a new splitting challenge: Karen Pence, the Second Lady of very exclusive, controlling, and judgmental politics chooses Art Therapy as her term initiative for advocacy. AATA responded to this call, by requiring that AATA determine and guide her words and her public representation of the profession, making clear that she has no influence on AATA policy. There is great resistance to this action from many art therapists. During the conference, this resistance was very vocal in its opposition and rejection of AATA’s role, naming it as unethical and threatening to the marginalized communities art therapists serve.
I must admit, that the reality of this split has kept me up more nights than I care to disclose. I have examined repeatedly and I know this will continue for me: my own white privilege, my own values and ethics, my personal and professional intentions and purpose, and how the state of our national politics and world condition is affecting the profession I love so much. I have agonized in pain trying to imagine the fear and threat that is so prominently real for so many people in the US currently. I have witnessed in horror the changes our national leadership is making to policy and law. I have experienced myself hooked into the “us and them; right and wrong” culture that this political leadership has epitomized and deliberately fostered.
And I have grieved.
Finally, I have concluded for myself, that what I want to resist is this culture of division. I want to bridge. I want to advocate for the well-being of all people. I resist the polarization within our world, our nation, and the art therapy profession. I affirm that I respect and support both sides of the art therapy split. I wish to help lead NMATA as a grass-roots organization that goes beyond the rhetoric and fear of politics and current realities, to empower the common humanity within our community. I know, without doubt in my mind or heart, that art therapists are some of the most aware, empathic, caring, non-judgmental, inclusive people in our country. We chose this profession because we believe in the healing power of creation, in the authentic value of every human being. We support our client’s in creating the best life they can imagine, according to their values and abilities, not according to ours. Those trained at Southwestern College have sat in the fire of their own soul’s path, so that they can do this work, clean and without personal agenda. This creates a perspective and power that is rare and precious and valuable. For me, it is an honor and privilege from the Universe to be an art therapist. I credit all those that have come before me to light this path, for my own success.
NMATA, with AATA, as parent organization, has the potential to grow and act beyond all that we inherit, as all off-spring do. We are not limited to our parental limitations; as they are national and involved at a higher level of interaction with other national organizations – we are grassroots, on the ground, hands on. We can take the best of what we are given and evolve beyond. I would like to guide us in knowing that we can stand together in the identity of art therapy, and create bridges with those who have different values.
I am an art therapist. For me that includes the vision, mission, and values outlined on the AATA website and the vision and mission of our State chapter. My identity as an art therapist also includes my professional and personal mission, vision, and values. As political discernment has become a cultural imperative, I have wrestled and struggled to find a way to walk my values through this complex and painful issue. For myself, I reject the perception that to allow Karen Pence to advocate for mental health and art therapy means that I am in alignment with her politics. I am not.
I discern great potential and great peril within this split. The potential for rejecting Pence advocacy includes making a stand against systematic racism, religion in politics, and oppressive policy. IMO, this is a political statement that serves our own indignation about current politics but does not align with our mission which is to expand the public knowledge about art therapy. The potential for allowing and guiding her advocacy are that we work from within the system to stand for dignity and mental health for all and we reach more people.
I believe we can retain our identity while bridging. For me, this is more in alignment with my values of inclusivity. (personally…if art therapists cannot do this global work...who can?) The potential of allowing her advocacy is that we can be leaders and show a way to grow into a collective that can support and foster the well-being and dignity of every human being. The peril of making the political statement of rejecting Pence is that we lose credibility in our own values of non-judgmental inclusivity and we alienate part of the population, which unfortunately may include our military who so desperately need art therapy services. It is also true, that the peril of allowing her advocacy is that some who would seek art therapy may not, due to a perceived alliance with her politics. This has terrified many art therapists and students who fear that Pence advocacy changes our identity as a profession. I want to claim for us all that it does not change our identity, but we need to know this and be able to verbalize this.
If we cannot, we become caught in the duality and national splitting that has such detrimental effects on the health of the collective. The global peril, as I see it, is that we, art therapists, inadvertently reinforce the split because of this belief; and limit our identity to political party affiliation, leaving no room for collaboration what-so-ever. For me, this time in history is demanding that I examine and discern to the depths of my ability. It is confusing and painful and again a sleep-robber, but I have come to stand in the resolve of the principle of Bridging our humanity.
Because of my education at Southwestern College, because of my transpersonal believe system and my personal spiritual practices, I struggle to see the biggest picture I can imagine. I work to have my choices in alignment with my biggest perceptions. I know I am not alone in this practice. I, personally, chose not to succumb to the splitting, dehumanizing politics, as I can perceive them. I choose collaboration for the greater good, even in the discomfort of collaborating with those who do not share my values.
It is my desire and intention to guide NMATA for this last year of my term of leadership, by the Light of these guideposts I have clarified through my own personal exploration of the current challenge in our profession, our country and our world:
- The principle that all people who seek mental health services deserve non-judgmental therapeutic support and assistance toward the personal goals they self-determine.
- The principle of activism to advocate for the advancement and improvement of social justice and healthcare for the marginalized and disadvantaged.
- The principle of collaboration and respect in search of common ground; of shared humanity; of solutions that bridge during this time of division.
- The principle of consciousness that describes how we create what we focus on as individuals and as a collective. I chose to focus on bridging at this time.
- The principle of growth and evolution through thoughtful consideration, choice, and action; which allows for change as more information is assimilated
- The principle of accepting what is, while working toward the greatest good for all.
With these guideposts, I offer a way to accept the Pence initiative at face value, knowing that allowing her advocacy does not limit our personal or professional values to hers nor define AATA’s or NMATA’s identity as hers. Because of the challenge and contemplation within the field, it has actually strengthened our identity, our principles and our resolve to hold and honor the realities of our national and global politics, while clearly articulating, educating, and facilitating social change through mental health and art therapy advocacy.
I encourage us all to live our values, to lift our voices, to be active in our world. This call to awareness and action is critical at this point in history. We are a profession of privileged women. I know that part of what drives every art therapist is the duty to use this privilege for the advancement and care of all people, particularly the most disadvantaged and underprivileged. Art therapists serve the most marginalized sect of our society, the mentally ill. We serve in ways that are respectful, gentle, kind and effective in empowering health and well-being. We bring the feminine principles everywhere we go. We live the tools and practices needed for all, to be balanced in this harsh and fear filled world.
What a calling! We are the change we wish to see.
This is our purpose, as I see it. This is our honor. This is our identity.
I pledge to do everything I can to live these principles as NMATA’s leader this year. I hope you can see, I do not do this work lightly, or without deep contemplation and care.
I want to hear from you. I want to see the things you can see, that I cannot.
I invite you to write us. NMATA has an amazing Board of Directors. These are strong, articulate women, who are here to serve you. You are invited to write to any or all of us.
Please consider attending our membership meetings, getting involved in shaping this organization, connecting with passionate art therapists for fun and support, but most important being active in our social service agenda. We will be creating alliance with like-minded state organizations this year. We will be visible in the legislature. We will be offering discounted CEUs to our membership. And we need to know where you think we should be active and involved.
Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and consider my opinions.
My wish is that these words have value in empowering your own personal process through these issues.
Lastly, thank you for boldly and authentically Being who You are,
For being the change, you wish to see.