Arts & Culture News

Denton Nonprofit The Art Room Wants To Heal Us Through Art

A volunteer at The Art Room in Denton, helping a member cope through art.
A volunteer at The Art Room in Denton, helping a member cope through art. courtesy The Art Room
For many people, compounding daily responsibilities, especially when paired with pandemic-induced isolation, bring on anxiety and other mental health ailments. The Art Room, a nonprofit in Denton, wants us to heal through art. The group has adapted art as a way to teach coping mechanisms.

“Art is so powerful because it allows us to express things we don't know that we're trying to express, or that we can't express with words,” says Dr. Marlys Lamar, psychologist and president of The Art Room.

The space is available at no cost to members and provides adults with a therapeutic outlet for artistic expression. The studio offers an assortment of supplies to create artwork. If a member's desired medium is not available, the directors will pull their resources to try to provide it.

The Art Room opened its doors in 2019 after Lamar had been enamored by the idea for decades. The concept for the nonprofit was inspired by a documentary Lamar saw in the ‘90s in which a psychiatrist opens a successful art studio for those suffering with severe mentally illness.

“It just fascinated me, the whole thing.” Lamar says. “The idea of offering a space to people, a place to create and to see the beautiful artwork that they did create. And I think that was the stimulus for me.”

The Art Room provides open studio hours and workshops. Those who are interested can initiate membership on the nonprofit’s website. Workshop Wednesdays, a monthly virtual and in-person hybrid class, focuses on different art techniques such as wire work and printmaking. Therapeutic Thursdays, held virtually weekly, focuses on art through the lens of positive psychology. Therapeutic artistic expression such as art journaling is also an activity that's emphasized by the group, to help members strengthen their coping mechanisms.

Open studio hours are available on Fridays and Saturdays. Classes and open studio hours are led by volunteer artists and mental health team members. Prospective members are encouraged to participate regardless of their artistic experience.

“A lot of times we hear the words, ‘You can't draw, you're not an artist’ and we take that as gospel truth and it's not,” says Leslie Kregel, The Art Room's education and programming coordinator. “Everyone has that ability to express themselves through art media, and if people are intimidated they can keep it as private as possible. Small little explorations, like in a visual journal or a sketchbook, they can keep it to themselves. ... The great thing about it is you don't have to show people, you can just let this be something you explore.”
click to enlarge A project by nonprofit The Art Room. - THE ART ROOM
A project by nonprofit The Art Room.
The Art Room

Those who are curious to simply to hone their artistic skills shouldn't let the therapeutic aspects of The Art Room deter them from joining, the organizers say. They want potential members to feel assured there is no obligation to share personal details. Instead, participants are encouraged to utilize the creative art process as therapy.

“Each piece [of artwork] has a particular story, whether it was an individual working through something at that moment, or whether it was an individual that learned how to use a new process or new material that they've never used before,” Kregel says. “Some people work through some real personal stuff and kind of keep it to themselves and others are open to sharing. Just knowing some of those personal stories and seeing the value of that space has been extremely rewarding for me.”

Aquira Bayo took a leap of faith at the end of the summer and visited The Art Room for open studio hours. Bayo struggles with socializing, a phobia that peaked with the pandemic.

“It got to a point where I wasn't socializing at all," Bayo says. "It went from, ‘Oh, I don't really like this,’ to, ‘I'm not going to do it, and I'm going to take every step necessary to avoid this, to avoid socializing.'”

Bayo to built the courage to visit The Art Room in person after joining their virtual programs. Bayo walked in with only a sketchbook in hand and is now flourishing with fulfilling friendships and a diverse portfolio.

“The community art project was my favorite experience overall from The Art Room, just because we were using clay board,” Bayo says. “We were frustrated [by the clay board] together as a unit. It was nice to have those frustrations validated by others and then use that frustration to work together and figure out how we were going to make this look better.”

The community art project, titled “Roots and Branches,” is composed of 60 canvases created by The Art Room members, volunteers and local artists who recreated Cumberland Presbyterians Children’s Home’s bois d’arc tree. Cumberland, a residential community for youths, unveiled the completed project during an open house Sept. 21. Contributing members attended the event. Bayo describes the atmosphere as a collective beaming with pride.

“Artist expression has the power to heal and open us all to the creative parts of ourselves,” Courtney Banatoski, Cumberland president and CEO, said in a press release. “The ‘Roots and Branches’ project will be a permanent reminder to everyone who comes to our campus that growth and transformation are always possible.”

Cumberland’s relationship with The Art Room extends past being the home of “Roots and Branches.” The facility partnered with The Art Room for the pilot of Studio 416, The Art Room's initiative to expand its services to adolescents. Slightly more structured than the adult classes, Studio 416 aims to support youth through self-expression and to integrate adolescents into community by blending mindfulness techniques, mental health education and art.

“When we look at adults, we look at mental health issues becoming problematic when they start interrupting functioning,” Maryam Flory, licensed professional counselor and The Art Room vice-president and secretary, says." The same can apply to teenagers, and so when we notice these dysfunctions, whether it's in school, or moodiness, it's still worth exploring to see what's going on, if it's deeper, and not just passing it off as ‘Oh well, this is just them being a teen or just hormones.”
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Desiree Gutierrez is a music and culture intern at the Dallas Observer. Equipped with her education from Dallas College Brookhaven Campus and the University of North Texas' Mayborn School of Journalism, Desiree has transformed the ability to overthink just about anything into a budding career in journalism.