Art Therapy as a Gift of Kindness

By Shantay Robinson 

Art Should Be Available For Everyone!“- Chelsea’s Charity 

Chelsea is ten-years-old, and she started a charity to help other children. This compassionate young lady saw problems in our world and decided to find solutions. Though the United States might be one of the most affluent nations in the world, there are still people in this country who amazingly go without. There are those whose lives are upturned by travesty and those who have been subjected to generations of poverty. And because of this, in this great nation, children spend days and nights without the nourishment to feed their bodies in order to succeed in this world. While Chelsea as a sole individual cannot change all of the problems that way too many children face, she’s decided to do what she can. For her tenth birthday, instead of asking for gifts, she asked that her family and friends donate art supplies that she could share with less fortunate children. And that is how her charity began. While she started the charity on her 10th birthday in 2019, the desire to help started some years before that. Chelsea says, “In 2015, my mom won tickets to the White House Easter Egg Roll and I was a bit disturbed because I saw some homeless people, not too many, but it was really sad. And I wanted to help them. And another reason was, just last Christmas I received a very expensive art kit and I just felt so happy then and I wanted everyone to have that.”

Although Chelsea’s charity is located in the tri-state area, in the short time it’s been in existence, they have made a national reach. They started in New York because they wanted to give back to their immediate community. But once they had touched some kids lives there, they looked for other opportunities. They began the charity very organically. Chelsea’s grandmother worked at a homeless shelter in Queens, NY, so they found out how many children resided there, and they prepared art kits for those children. And some of Chelsea’s mom’s Delta Sigma Theta Sorority sisters made connections for them. They first used their connections to find out about sites that could use their services, but since, others have been seeking their services. In the five months the charity has been operating, they sought out sites where traumatic events had occurred and distributed kits to children who were directly impacted by mass shootings, so they ended up in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH. They are working with a low-income school that cut their art program, so they plan to create 200 kits, so the children can keep art in their lives and have access to materials. The charity was contacted by the Haitian American Caucus inquiring if they could help school children in Haiti by donating 300 art kits. While this charity is only five months old, it already has an international appeal. Chelsea has definitely tapped into a need that she is enthusiastic about meeting.

According to Psychology Today, “Art therapy helps children, adolescents, and adults explore their emotions, improve self-esteem, manage addictions, relieve stress, improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, and cope with a physical illness or disability.”  Very Well Mind states, “Art, either the process of creating it or viewing others’ artworks, is used to help people explore their emotions, develop self-awareness, cope with stress, boost self-esteem, and work on social skills.” And the Art Therapy Blog offers, “The creative process involved in expressing one’s self artistically can help people to resolve issues as well as develop and manage their behaviors and feelings, reduce stress, and improve self-esteem and awareness.” While the children who acquire the art kits from Chelsea’s Charity are not under the supervision of a licensed therapist, the act of creating art could free them from their immediate circumstances for at least a little while and allow them to reflect on the parts of their lives that need healing. 

I know first-hand the power of art therapy. When I was diagnosed with schizophrenia 20 years ago, right after I graduated from college, one of the therapy sessions I went to asked me to draw how I felt. I drew myself underground with the world happening above me. When I left the session, in a symbolic act, I tore the drawing up, with the declaration that I would be part of the world. Though the very beginning my mental illness encumbered by actions and made it difficult to conduct day-to-day activities, as I attempted graduate school I was asked to review an art exhibition. I went to a photography exhibition and spent the whole afternoon there looking at the images and writing down what I saw. It felt really good and I ended up pleased with what I wrote. Although I didn’t finish graduate school the first time around because the mental illness was weighing heavy on me and I needed a break, I discovered writing about art. I eventually became able to resume my life despite the fact that I had fallen behind where I thought I should be. Although I had a rocky start, my second attempt at graduate school went a lot better, and it might just be because I went to an art school for writing. There, I was required to take art history and art criticism classes. While I was taking classes, I applied to be a docent to conduct tours at the museum. A couple times a month I would meet with the other would-be docents and we would look at, think of, and talk about art. Through my interest in art, I had developed my own art therapy that allowed me to look more closely at my own thoughts and think through delusions. The power of art therapy is real. 

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” – Pablo Picasso

Experiencing art whether it be by creating it or looking at it offers time away from the mundanity or unfairness of one’s lived experiences. For me, it was a break from thoughts of inferiority. I was able to engage with ideas about other people’s existence. Thinking about the world and how we exist in it offered me some perspective about my state, allowing me to really realize my blessings and gifts. While I am not a therapist, I could imagine that a step away from the everyday could be a blessing in itself that so many people, especially for children who have or are experiencing traumatic events. They could benefit from art in a way that could be life changing. Art is a luxury that many people can’t afford especially when museums charge for entrance. But Chelsea is offering a gift of love to help children who might not be able to have art in their lives an opportunity to express themselves when expressing themselves could be burdensome to the adults around them. Those adults are going through the same thing and might not know what to do about it. Sometimes a picture can speak a thousand words. The children gifted with the art kits are able to show those who care about them what they are going through when speaking about the situation can be too difficult. Some of the children that Chelsea’s Charity serves are in need of basic living requirements like food and shelter, but Chelsea offers them something more. Chelsea offers them an opportunity to step away from their immediate state and the opportunity to dream. 

Chelsea’s mom, Candace, says that Chelsea is “very committed to helping others. She’s a very empathetic child.” At six-years-old Chelsea knew she wanted to help people somehow. Now five months in, Chelsea has big plans of turning her charity into a nonprofit. She wants to send art kits to Saint Jude’s Children’s Hospital. And she has plans to use the proceeds from a graphic novel she wrote to support her charity. Chelsea wants to be an artist, but she doesn’t have much training. When she distributes art kits to the sites, she shares what she knows about drawing with the children there. Candace would love for Chelsea to have more training in art and thinks that having an art teacher at the sites of distribution would be a great way for the community to help out this charity. But anyone can help the charity by donating on the charity’s site:

Black Art In America is proud to support Chelsea’s Charity with a donation and becoming their official media partner and arts advisor. We ask the BAIA community to please support Chelsea’s Charity today!.” – Najee Dorsey

Chelsea is an example of the type of person that makes this a better world. She is blessed to have a loving family who supports her dreams, but knowing every child is not as fortunate, she sees an opportunity to fill a gap. While all the children that Chelsea supports might not have their sights set on becoming artists, her presence is also a gift. She’s not only allowing children access to supplies, she’s offering them a chance to get to know her. She serves as a shining example of what young people can do when their hearts are in the right place. The children that Chelsea reaches out to might not have role models they can look up to or they may be lacking confidence in themselves. But Chelsea shows them the power of kindness and that power is contagious. Chelsea believes kindness is key. She says, “One act of kindness can cause a big effect on other people’s lives.”

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Shantay Robinson, BAIA resident scholar has participated in Burnaway’s Art Writers Mentorship Program, Duke University’s The New New South Editorial Fellowship, and CUE Art Foundation’s Art Critic Mentoring Program. She has written for Burnaway, ArtsATL, ARTS.BLACK, AFROPUNK, Number, Inc. and Washington City Paper. While  receiving an MFA in Writing from Savannah College of Art and Design, she served as a docent at the High Museum of Art. She is currently working on a PhD in Writing and Rhetoric at George Mason University.

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