Picture an individual sitting across from a therapist, unable to voice their innermost battles; unable to vocalise hidden shame or trauma; unwilling even in this safe space, to speak aloud their fears….
Now, imagine the same individual given a sheet of silver, handed the freedom to express themselves with art, physically moulding, filing, shaping a blank sheet, waiting to tell a story through a piece of jewellery. Encouraged to create, the patient subconsciously lets their guard down, and with it, acceptance of trauma and emotions. Art therapy is where psychology and creativity meet.
Every Thursday, Open Workshop runs from 5:30pm-8:30 pm at Exodus Youth Worx, where participants have complete freedom to design pieces of jewellery. We believe that jewellery is extremely personal and conveys a story, which is why we allow attendees full artistic control over their projects.
Additionally, the first Thursday of every month there is jewellery making alongside other art therapy projects. These projects often centralise around identity, goals or even just simple art projects to reinforce the significance of creativity on the person and community as a whole. These evenings are more reflective and personal to the individual, allowing them to dive deeper into themselves, again enhancing mindfulness and self-healing.
Activities such as these have proven to assist a person in expressing inexpressible emotions as a result of trauma, family circumstances, school etc, through a gentle approach where a process of self-healing starts. Unlike the jewellery making classes, these projects are able to be replicated at home in their own time whenever they may feel the need to reconnect, recharge or be mindful. A lot of people investigate ideas about their interests, hobbies, heritage, friends, and families in their art works, therefore allowing them to reconnect with what gives them joy and purpose in life. Whether the individual has a mental illness or not, we can all get caught up in the busy lifestyle of today’s society, therefore, it is always helpful to every now and then reflects on what brings us peace and satisfaction in life. Thus, Open Workshop also teaches lifelong lessons.
Social work and counselling are often accessible to a certain extent no matter what status or income of the patient, which is positive for those who benefit in these spaces. However, the cost for art therapy in the Georges River Council area is extremely expensive and not accessible to all who may benefit, as most programs are a minimum of $250 for 4-6 weeks. For example, a two-day soldering class is $360, a four-day course to make your own sterling silver ring is $475 and a basic jewellery skills course for 7 weeks is $670. The tools, materials, equipment, and the expertise required to teach a jewellery making workshop are intense to manage, we are not denying that, and these classes at other organizations have proven to be very beneficial for specific parts of the community. We however are currently providing all of this plus more at an accessible price, a $5 donation with all equipment required and the teaching done by two professional jewellers. Therefore, resulting in our program to be accessible to people coming from a low socioeconomic background.
Not only is the cost at other organizations often exclusive to people with a certain income but the lock-in commitment may not be feasible for someone with a mental illness. For example, someone experiencing depression may not feel mentally or physically prepared to attend every single session, therefore if they pay for 7 weeks and only attend a few sessions, it is almost a waste. Hence why the nature of our organization assists in creating an “easy come easy go” atmosphere, as we are a drop-in center. It is generally recognised that loneliness is a very real issue in Australia, as 1 in 4 Australians feel lonely (Psychweek.org, 2018).
We also focus heavily on a sense of community. There are not many programs in the area where anyone, young or old, is able to come together but also be mindful in their own right. As the Georges River Council population consists of 45.5% of people born overseas, and 53.5% of people speak a language other than English at home (2016), it is shown that 1 in 2 people are migrants or of migrant descent, thus displaying the diverse nature of the area. Emphasizing the need for a program like this which brings people of all ages, backgrounds, and beliefs together. With our youngest regular attendee being 13 and our eldest being in her 60s, the room on Thursday evenings, to a certain extent, represents the people of the Georges River Council.
Further, we make it a point to have dinner together at around 7 pm, as food is an integral aspect of all of our programs at EYW, reinforcing that sense of community. Eating together, sharing a meal, breaking down barriers and being in company with one another. Open Workshop has also proven time and time again to be a safe space, where art therapy is a gateway to allow individuals to learn from each other, share stories and grow together. When asked if the program enhances their relationships with others in the community, a gentleman in his late 20’s replied saying, “I think it does because we meet and learn from other people.”
Mindfulness-based art therapy within community blends meditation, creativity, and belonging. Hence, addressing the intense anxiety rates and loneliness in today’s society. Anxiety is the most common mental health condition in Australia, on average, 1 in 4 people will experience anxiety and is affecting millions of lives at any given time. In light of this statistic, Open Workshop is a safe haven, allowing attendees to release emotions into art whilst being focused on specific tasks, easing the mind and overall emotional pain associated with anxiety. The individual involved in a practice of mindfulness tunes into the present moment, and for someone who struggles with a mental illness such as anxiety or depression, a ten-minute silence of thoughts whilst filing a piece of silver that will eventually become a ring, is completely priceless.
The positive effects of art therapy are multifaceted, depending on the person, self-esteem is an intangible goal, creating something that you thought you were not capable of is an incredible boost of confidence. During this program, we often hear comments including: “I’m not creative enough” or “I don’t think I can do that”. The transformation in mindset and capability once someone has completed a piece of jewellery that they have made, is indescribable. We truly believe that anyone can make jewellery – so we welcome beginners! Further, associated with mental states including anxiety and depression is often a loss of meaning of life, the National Arts Participation Survey 2016 shows that 76% of Australians interviewed agree that the arts make for a richer and more meaningful life.
“I never in a million years thought that I would be capable of making my own silver ring, let along necklace charms. multiple sets of earrings as well as several gifts for friends! Open Workshops has been a gateway for me to gaining more self confidence and a mindset of ‘yeah, I can do this’ whatever ‘this’ may be throughout life”
17-year-old female participant
In conclusion, Open Workshop strengthens a community of all cultures, genders, and ages. It improves health and overall wellbeing through creative projects, allowing for access to mindfulness and creation, no matter your status or financial situation may be. Therefore, creating a platform for individuals would better their lives.