In January of 2017, New Orleans got a new village in town. It’s called Whole Village Art Therapy, and it is a non-profit run by artist, counselor, art therapist, and community advocate Holly Wherry.
Wherry brings a new spin to art therapy through her adventurous spirit, including a bike ride from Iowa to New Orleans with an art therapy trailer in tow. On this bike ride, she and her partner, Robert, went from town to town asking people to make art with them. “I remember we stopped at a truck stop,” Wherry recollects, “and we asked one of the truckers to do art with us. This was an older gentleman who was big and very masculine. He was hesitant to make art, and when I asked him why, he said, ‘My first grade teacher told me I was bad at art. I haven’t done it since.'”
That’s right, that older man still held the scars from the words of his first grade teacher, and scars are exactly what Wherry hopes to help people heal through art therapy. [By the way, the man did end up making art with them, and hopefully he is out there painting and drawing without one reverberation of his first grade teacher’s voice in his head].
Wherry’s adventurous spirit and desire to help others also led her to India and Sri Lanka where she established art therapy programs that continue to run today. Her love, home, and heart, however, are in New Orleans, and that is where she chose to start her non-profit. Her past work still spills into her life here and influences the inimitable characteristics of Whole Village Art Therapy. As Wherry explains, “Here [in the United States] when we talk about therapy a lot of times it’s how do we help the individual heal, but when I was there [Sri Lanka and India] a lot of that work was about how do we help the whole family heal. How do we help this one person become a better family member or member of society? It was not about how we make them a better person themselves.”
So although Wherry does work with individuals, one of the goals of Whole Village Art Therapy is to get the community to heal in a communal space. “It doesn’t mean that you all have to heal together,” she says, “but there will be spaces and opportunity for moms or dads or grandparents or whomever to learn this healing process alongside their children while they’re meeting other people in the community.”
In a city that is known for second lines, open house parties during Carnival, communal murals, neutral ground cookouts, bayou crawfish boils, and porching with your neighbor, the concept of communal healing sounds just about right.
Isolation is a temptation pushed by a lot of the world, and Wherry and her non-profit combat against the fallacy that healing, success, and life have to happen on an individual basis. Community members in New Orleans have helped each other grow and heal for decades, whether we are talking about social and pleasure clubs or clinics set-up to assist our cultural innovators, and Whole Village Art Therapy looks to continue that legacy. And glitter. How can we forget about this city’s love for glitter?
Paints, crayons, crafts, murals, and projects are another medium to bring us all together, no matter what your supposed skill level is when it comes to art. As Wherry says, “You can hate art and still get something out of doing art therapy. It’s not just for artists…It’s really for everyone.” So for all of us who attempted to make something gloriously beautiful for our parents or loved ones in our younger years and ended up creating a jankity hunk of clay that goes beyond the concept of abstract, there’s hope for us. Whole Village Art Therapy is about creating and healing together, and it will embrace a hot mess of art any day.
Whole Village Art Therapy is holding two communal events on Saturday, February 11, 2017. From 1:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. they will have a free community art making experience The art making from 1:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. is for adults only, which will then be followed by a family creation time from 2:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. Admission is free and no registration is necessary. See www.wholevillageart.org for more information.