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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Art therapy

Tours for people with special needs become popular at the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko Museum of Art
27 May, 2014 - 10:38
Photo from The Day’s archives

Art therapy has been practiced in the Western medical, educational, and social institutions for a long time. The popularity and effectiveness of this method is explained by the fact that the very atmosphere of art promotes the inward openness, a special psychologically comfortable field is created, in which it is easier and more natural to develop communication skills.

Such art therapy project was implemented at the Khanenko Museum with the support of a grant program provided by Rinat Akhmetov’s Foundation “Development of Ukraine.” Experts created several special tours for children with impaired hearing and for those diagnosed with cerebral palsy and various levels of intellectual deficit.

Deputy head of the museum for research and methodological work and museum programs Hanna Rudyk reminded: “Last year a nationwide methodological seminar ‘Special children in special environment: museum resource of rehabilitation and social integration of children with special needs’ took place. Its main task was to meet like-minded people, exchange ideas and experiences. For example, Olena Hluboka, researcher and teacher at the Donetsk Regional Museum of Local History, has been organizing developing and rehabilitation classes for special children. Besides museum workers, the seminar was attended by tens of Kyiv experts of auxiliary professions: corrective teachers, psychologists, social workers, and parents.

“For example, ‘Springboard’ program offers a group of adults with intellectual disabilities to use special 90-minute interactive classes at the Khanenko Museum during half a year to get acquainted with art and discuss subjects offered by a group teacher. About 20 of such classes have been held already, 2 groups of 12 persons each finished the program already, and 2 more are in progress now. We also organize groups for children on request for one-time classes.

“The idea of an art therapy project was born in the process of discussion of the foreign museums experience, in particular, ‘Discoveries’ programs held by the Metropolitan Museum in New York. I shared my impressions on the work of museums abroad with people who have mental disabilities. These are tour methods of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts for adults with Alzheimer’s disease, and therapeutic theater at the Hermitage directed by Aleksandr Kolesin: people with Down syndrome act in it, and many others.

“It is important to realize that the current project is experimental, it does not have a well-tested model, but we hope to create a model that will work.”

“A daycare program is operating on the basis of 35 NGOs. With the funds allotted from the state budget, 2 part-time workers are hired to take care of groups of 8 persons for 20 hours a week. In general, 280 persons receive service within the framework of this program. For a mother, daily four-hour care is a great relief, a possibility to take care of family affairs, her health, relax from stress, because a part-time nurse is a standard service in Europe,” says Raisa Kravchenko, director of the All-Ukrainian Coalition of NGOs for People with Intellectual Disabilities.

At first, specially trained volunteers speak in front of groups of young people with an offer to become a friend of a person with intellectual deficit.

Art therapy is a new project for Ukrainian museums and social services. How is the goal of the classes created, does a psychologist only create topics of each meeting, or do museum workers also participate? What is the essence of the art therapy sessions? The topic of each meeting is chosen by the project psychologist Khrystyna Kholodnytska, she also provides the methodological development of a topic: what aspects and in which manner of discussion are the most important for the project’s goal. Topics of meetings are: “Who am I? What am I like?”, “Important people in my life,” “My dreams,” “Significant events in my life.” And based on the topic and offered theses, experts create a scenario of a special museum tour.

“Prospects of art therapy development are doubtless. It is a path to a civilized society, in which a thesis about equal opportunities for everyone with no exceptions becomes reality, and presence of the social groups of outcasts becomes a thing of the past,” Rudyk says.

It is important that the number of such projects is growing, and experts are fascinated by the idea of an experiment, open to new influences and discoveries. If the new for our country practice of art therapy is supported by other Ukrainian museums and art centers (with the commercial help of charity foundations and organizations, and also with the personal participation of sincerely inspired individuals), then we will be able to jointly help people with disabilities become a part of the Ukrainian society, which it was separated from by a wall of misunderstanding and passive indifference.

By Olena SHAPIRO, art expert