Knowledge Series presents ‘Arts as a catalyst for healing’
By Calvert Johnson
“Using the Arts as a Catalyst for Healing” is the topic of the March 17 program of the Knowledge Series, featuring Susan Anderson. The presentation begins at 4:30 p.m. in the Mountains Grille Room of The Clubhouse at Lake Sconti, preceded by registration, beverages and conversation at 4 p.m.
The Webster Dictionary defines catalyst as “an agent that provokes or speeds significant change or action.” In other words, it can be a person or thing that precipitates an event. One such catalyst has been an Atlanta-based nonprofit called “ArtReach” which has played that role over the last nearly 20 years. Through the use of various interactive creative arts therapies, the ArtReach Foundation’s mission has helped children and adults, traumatized by war and conflict, natural disasters, and displacement.
As a result of the foundation’s work, both internationally and at home in the U.S., lives have been changed, and communities have become reconnected in such places as Bosnia, the Middle East, Haiti, and Clarkston, Ga. The impact has been tremendous because of ArtReach working with refugees from Hurricane Katrina, and veterans of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Vietnam and their family members. ArtReach has brought its programs into schools and communities so children could express themselves creatively, and in the process recover from trauma.
Susan Anderson is founder and CEO of the ArtReach Foundation® (ArtReach) www.artreachfoundation.org, an international non-profit active since 1999, dedicated to children and adults in their recovery from the traumatic effects from war, violence, or natural disaster.
ArtReach offers training programs to teachers, social workers and healthcare providers. The ArtReach model training approach incorporates an integrative use of the creative arts therapies within a psychodynamic group process. ArtReach is headquartered in Atlanta and is also a registered NGO in Jordan.
Susan Anderson’s original area of interest and education was in chemistry; she was educated at Virginia Tech and the University of Delaware. For many years she worked for companies such as DuPont and Hoechst in polymer research and development. After leaving this industry, she became an active volunteer with community organizations and projects such as Junior League, Project Open Hand, shelter ministries, and local arts programs in Atlanta. In 1990, Anderson launched her own company called ArtistiConnections, Inc., which represented artists from around the world.
Later enrolling at the Atlanta College of Art, she was introduced to the field of art therapy, which ultimately led to her understanding about how art can assist in the emotional healing process. As a result, in 1999, she began The ArtReach Foundation, where she designed, organized, and implemented this international non-profit’s first five-year mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina that began in 2000.
Through her efforts she independently raised funds to support this groundbreaking initiative. The innovative model Susan Anderson developed aimed to cultivate creativity, hope and resilience in the participants without forcing them to retell the actual traumatic events of their trauma.
Bosnia’s Ministry of Education estimates that over 250,000 children benefited from the ArtReach programs in the five years the organization operated in that country. Since then ArtReach expanded to Lebanon, Jordan, Haiti and the United States, where it assisted Hurricane Katrina evacuees in Arkansas and Georgia.
In 2009, Anderson initiated a program to bring expressive arts therapy workshops to war-affected U.S. military personnel, their families and health providers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder. This program has so far served 750 participants through a veteran peer-training program.
In February 2011, she partnered with the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI), to study the ArtReach model’s impact before launching a national training institute in Atlanta. Since 2015, ArtReach began working with international refugees in the Clarkston, Ga. community.
Anderson’s work has been recognized worldwide. In 2003, Anderson received the Artemis Award from the Euro-American Women’s Counsel, presented to her in Athens, Greece, for her humanitarian work with ArtReach in Bosnia. In addition, a cadre of 30 “Bosnian ArtReach trainers” continues today to take this sustainable program to other teachers in their country and abroad.
She has appeared on numerous CNN television programs regarding her work with ArtReach, as well as a special feature on “Breakfast with the Arts", A & E Entertainment, in January 2005.
In 2007, the Jordan National Gallery, FAM, and the Royal Society of Fine Arts, Jordan, named the foundation as the presenter of the U.S. tour of a major art exhibit called “Breaking the Veils: Women Artists from the Islamic World.” This two-year opportunity gave a platform to speak on ArtReach’s mission, brand, and vision for the ArtReach: Middle East Institute training program.
Finally, ArtReach received one of 10 special invitations from former president William J. Clinton to become a member at the Clinton Global Initiative. As a result, The ArtReach Foundation made a major, three-year commitment to humanitarian progress within the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region. ArtReach also committed to expand the MENA training to roughly 4,000 educators and professional caregivers of 200,000 children affected by the trauma of displacement, war, violence and natural disaster.
In 2011, Anderson, was selected as a Purpose Prize Fellow by Civic Ventures (now Encore) as well as the Alif Institute Distinguished Service Award. Both awards were created to recognize individuals for improving their communities and the world with their energy and passion. In 2012, Anderson was also selected as a Front-Line Scholar at the TEDMED conference in Washington, D.C. and is currently working with TEDMED on becoming a future speaker so that she may spread the ArtReach vision.
Sponsored by the Big Canoe POA, The Knowledge Series supports life-long learning and offers compelling monthly presentations by dynamic speakers and discussion groups on literary, artistic, international, national and regional topics of interest and significance. Future programs of The Knowledge Series this season will include:
April 7, 2019: Amy Pelissero, Head of School, Global Village Project, Decatur, with special appearance by Elise Witt, the music instructor at the school
May 5, 2019: Catherine Lewis, Kennesaw State University, “Eisenhower, Golf, and Cold War Politics”