Volunteer Klarissa on art as therapy
Volunteers’ Week: Klarissa volunteers at one of our hostels, running an art group for residents
Klarissa volunteers with Thames Reach, running an art group at one of our hostels in central London. She has been doing this since the start of the year, and reflects on what it means for residents to get involved with a creative practice, as well as what she has learned from the experience.
“I come in every Wednesday and run an art workshop in the afternoon. It’s important that I keep the structure as open as possible, so people don’t feel put off by a lack of experience or confidence in making art. The objective certainly isn’t to produce a perfect painting or drawing, it’s to have some time and space to be freely creative, in a way that feels comfortable.
“When I started volunteering, I came into it quite naïve; I was full of enthusiasm and was very amped up at first but then I realised that I’m coming into an environment where someone might be finding themselves again, they might be at the beginning of their journey. I now know that I need to take a back seat and hold the space. Being gentle and taking things slowly can be far more inviting than coming to a group where the facilitator is super happy and chirpy; it’s been a process trying to find that balance, but a very rewarding one.
“The residents are great, it’s been a wonderful experience meeting new people with new creative ideas to work on together. We’ve been able to lean into the challenges that come with being creative, the ongoing hope is to work through cycles of low self-esteem to find that all creativity is valuable and valid. It’s so easy to feel embarrassed by art-making if you’re not confident with what you’re doing, but leaning into that is a skill that we’re all trying to learn. Doing something that can free us from our daily routine and anxieties can be therapeutic in itself. Then there’s the production element of it: once an artwork has been made, it’s a real statement of showing people who you are and how you appear in the world! There is a real issue with people feeling invisible once they’ve experienced homelessness, but making art can be one way to show people how you feel, and how you express yourself. I have gotten to know people at the project not necessarily by them telling me everything, but through the art they are making.
“Having the space for making art, having a chat and being creative every Wednesday means that residents know it’s here, as something completely separate from their usual support networks and friendship groups. People come to the art group with all kinds of issues going on in their lives, but I hope to create a space where they can do something outside of that for a couple of hours. I don’t do this in the expectation that it will change anyone’s life; although I’m interested in therapeutic activites, I’m not a trained therapist, so I have to manage expectations. If it can just change someone’s Wednesday, then I’m happy.”