IT’S ALL ABOUT ME! was originally run in 2011 in conjunction with Compass Housing in Newcastle and culminated in an exhibition opened by Richard Vella, Chair and Professor of Music and Head of School, Drama, Fine Art and Music at the University of Newcastle.
It was run again in 2014, in conjunction with Compass Housing, in Tumbi Umbi on the Central Coast. The exhibition was opened by Lyn Cooper, Youth Officer for Wyong Shire Council and Chris Trypas from Compass.
A 5 week program culminating in an exhibition of photographs and mixed media artworks. The core components are art therapy, photography, journaling, storytelling, strengths identification and life as a journey.
Adolescence and Identity:
A strong sense of identity is necessary to travel from adolescence into the adult world. In developing a stronger sense of self, adolescents are better equipped to deal with some of the difficulties they may encounter and have to resolve along the way. On the big picture level, this opens the possibility of escaping from the poverty cycle, where welfare dependency is handed down from one generation to another, becoming a lifestyle and a way of life, with neither the ability nor even the desire to change things.
Adolescence is a time of shifts and changes, a period of transition. It is a time when one may be either consciously or unconsciously aware of the necessity for a new sense of self as participation in the adult world looms ahead. Many cultures retain ceremonies to confirm this coming of age and significant benefits accrue to the individual who successfully navigates this initiation from one stage of being to another. Western society offers little in the way of a rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood – the closest Australian society comes to an initiatory test is an 18th birthday party where the birthday boy [although increasingly this is not the sole domain of men], may be challenged to consume a yard glass of beer. He/she is then handed their driver’s licence and permission to legally consume alcohol. Perhaps not a real clever combination.
Many social commentators believe that it is the lack of these rituals that has led our youth into violence, drugs, sex. How else can they prove their strength and independence in the 21st Century except to experience the thrill of drug and alcohol experimentation, bullying, illicit sex and carrying a gun or knife?
Individuals with a strong sense of self, of identity, of who they are and where they are going, are far more likely to be able to withstand the temptations of a society or peer group which promises easy and instant gratification. Individuals who are able to take responsibility for their lives, who have a sense of self-worth – regardless of their social or economic background – are far more likely to discover and fulfill their potential. Individuals who build their lives on a firm base of self-knowledge and self-understanding are far more likely to live authentic lives, to have a strong inner compass, to be happy human beings, relatively immune to the plethora of chronic mental health problems which plague our society. Ultimately, they are more likely to make valuable and unique contributions to the world.
IT’S ALL ABOUT ME! is designed to give participants a sense of ownership over their own lives. The program combines this sense of ownership of one’s life with the self-absorption with which adults often label adolescents. When linked with art therapy processes plus journaling, this self-absorption can be channelled positively into self-reflection and the discovery and establishing of a strong sense of self.
Participants will be presented with a Visual Diary in which to record their journey over this 5-week period. Two films will be shown – Precious and Freedom Writers. Both films are based on real events and both highlight the positive changes that can be brought about by the simple act of keeping a journal.
Art therapy processes will be based on a Strengths Approach which has far more chance of enabling and encouraging empowerment, self-direction and personal responsibility than coming from a ‘we-are-here-to-help-you’ approach. The Strengths Approach focuses on possibilities, strengths, capacities and hope.
Underlying the whole project is the Life As A Journey concept which is a universal archetype and found in most cultures and spiritual traditions. The overall power of looking at life as a journey is the recognition and acceptance that as all journeys are finite and come to an end, so too do all our lives. As difficult as it may be for young people to realise that this applies to them as well, it is useful to be able to imagine oneself at the end of one’s journey looking back with a smile of contentment at paths well-chosen, wise decisions made at turning points, finding oneself after being lost - as opposed to … the opposite.
Benefits for young people:
IT’S ALL ABOUT ME! enables participants to make connections between their external world [e.g. bullying, peer pressure] and their internal world [their emotional response] and back into the external world [violence vs alternatives, aggression vs assertiveness etc.]. It taps into the adolescent need to individuate by giving them the opportunity to use their innate creativity.
IT’S ALL ABOUT ME!l addresses individual needs in enabling participants to identify and work with their natural strengths, thereby enabling them – or at least give them the option to - live their lives based on self-knowledge and authenticity.
This program allows young people the opportunity to express their views on their own life and community in a positive way. Art therapy can be especially beneficial to youth because images are such a strong part of youth culture plus many young people are less comfortable expressing themselves verbally. Images can be both more revealing but perceived as less threatening than verbal communication. Through self-exploration and artistic outlets, the program allows young people to express their views on the issues of anger, violence, drugs, alcohol, bullying, teen suicide etc. as they impact on their lives and wellbeing. The group can share their experiences with each other and ultimately, their community. Such a process enables the identification of both similarities and differences, diminishes isolation and alienation, enhances well-being, highlights both the possibility and inevitability of choice.
The program also assists participants with social skills. The benefits of art therapy include helping people who are withdrawn or shy, or who have difficulty functioning in social situations. The insight and strength-identification that come as a result of doing art therapy and journaling can be empowering forces in an individual’s life. For some, it may also be a catalyst for healing if there has been a traumatic incident in their past.
An exhibition and the creation of a group work at the end of the 5 weeks can be seen as a rite of passage, signifying change, development and a different way of being in the world. It can be a source of great pride and satisfaction. If art can come to be seen as an ongoing, natural part of a person’s life, another dimension has been added to life, one which can be explored, developed, played with.
Art therapy is more than self-expression. It can open doors to an internal world that, when identified, recognised, traveled and traversed can impact an individual’s life in immensely satisfying and surprising ways. This, in turn, impacts on the person’s external world, their ‘place’ in the world. This sense of both connection and interconnectedness is incorporated into both the individual and group artworks.