First published: Spring 2012
What are these studios, workshops, centres, and ateliers qualified with some genteel euphemism such as ‘special’ or ‘creative’, or (less often) a more straight-forward ‘disability’ or ‘therapeutic’? This journal frequently features work by artists from such places, yet there has been little investigation within these pages of the fundamental nature and purpose of these studios. Previously in Raw Vision, Sue Steward gave a brief history of the development of what she labelled ‘progressive studios and workshops’, sharing examples found in and out of clinical settings. For over a decade now I have paid visits to various studios in the United States and Europe where artists with disabilities work, and have become a great admirer of their missions and artworks. I have seen community studios run by both art therapists and artists, and have observed some important differences as well as clearly shared values and approaches. Almost without exception, I have been politely yet firmly told by the artist facilitators that what was being done was not art therapy.
In 2008, I co-authored a study designed to discern the differences and similarities among the studios I had visited in Europe and a sample of community-based art therapy programmes in the United States. This research was based on a 108-item survey addressing programme description, services, funding, participant involvement, staff functions and mission. Data from twelve European programmes and ten in the United States were compared, and they reflected far more similarities than differences. Since 2006 I have served as a consultant to a Chicago-based studio for artists with special needs called Project Onward, and in this capacity I experience an ethos demonstrated by the facilitators that would easily be recognised by many of my art therapy colleagues.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #75