Many years ago, when storyteller and theatre artist Arianna Ross travelled to India to work with theatre group Rang Vidhushak, she found that arts depicted stories that would bring laughter, joy, and overall change to people’s lives.
When returning, to the United States she independently founded Story Tapestries, the company began working as an art service organization. There, Ross used art as a tool to create spaces where individuals could explore their mental health needs.
What started as a small organization, a small board, and a friend—Lorienne Beals—is now a not-for-profit organization focusing on the U.S. but working to engage Canada. Story Tapestries has been running for 12 years with a million-dollar budget. When speaking with Ross, she emphasized she wasn’t alone in making this company exist.
“I have an amazing board of individuals and phenomenal staff. I couldn’t do my job if they didn’t exist,” Ross said.
“The idea for me was always that tapestry came from that if you weave multiple art forms together, they create a fabric that holds up the community.”
Story Tapestries partners with schools, libraries, community centers, colleges, and community partners to apply for grants. Grants must be acquired to pay for the art kits and programming services that are used in these spaces as this organization is not-for-profit.
According to Ross, only about five per cent of the time does someone pay for the services provided without going through a grant. Once the grants are acquired to fund programming, Story Tapestries provides art, literacy, and mindfulness packaging.
“We use the art as a tool to provide programs to individuals to create space, brave, creative space, where individuals can explore their mental health issues and mental health needs,” Ross said.
“We have visual artists. We have storytellers. We have theatre artists, we have musicians. We have muralists, we have beatboxers, we have a rap artists. We partner with anyone and everyone.”
The artist in residence programme is one way Ross said children can build expressive communities, which is when an artist comes into a classroom and works directly with teachers or adults who have regular contact with the youth in need.
“[Artists] complement the curriculum or the social-emotional need of the classroom. They provide strategies, techniques, tools, and opportunities for expression.”
Song-writing helps students express emotions and process trauma Ross said—especially when combined with parent workshops where creativity programs that aid in preventing childhood burnout.
Ross observed a positive change in students’ behaviour through the programming. She provided an example of a clay moulding exercise where a group of students had a reputation for fighting and violence, but when dealing with the clay, exhibited peaceful behaviour, handling the clay with care.
“You have to acknowledge that you’re valuable, your voice matters and you’re important. If you don’t feel the people around you see you as valuable and important, and that your voice matters, it immediately makes you feel pushed down,” Ross said.
Providing students, a creative tool to express themselves, in a space where they feel brave and comfortable enough is what can improve self-confidence.
This programming has not only helped children with their mental obstacles but also older
age groups such as high school students, university students, and adults.
“Several of the deans said […] the opportunity you gave us to take photographs [and] to paint pictures created an outlet by which I could express myself […] People are just ready to explode, having an arts opportunity allows them to breathe,” Ross said.
While Ross offers creative solutions to mental health struggles, she emphasized her team is trained in how to handle mental health, but they’re not therapists.
Ross said Story Tapestries is the first step towards mental healing, but not the sole solution to mental struggles. She said it is a complementary tool to other methods of mental health solutions.
“My organization is one part of the solution, one piece of the puzzle, but if we work together then we really do support the ability to solve some of the many mental health crises in the nation.”
A previous version presented the age of Story Tapestries incorrectly and misspelled Lorienne Beals’s name. Incorrect information appeared in the May 29 issue of The Queen’s Journal.
The Journal regrets the error
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