SARATOGA/SCHENECTADY -- Making art can stir up more than creativity. It can also help people cope with mental or emotional issues they may not otherwise have been able to face.
C.R.E.A.T.E. Community Studios, a recently formed nonprofit, is working to make expressive therapy more accessible to the Capital Region. At their studios in Schenectady and Saratoga Springs, community members can stop by during open studio hours or attend a variety of workshops.
Art therapists Heather Hutchison, Camille Grec, Aili Lopez and educator Julianne Lewis founded C.R.E.A.T.E. (or Capital Region Expressive Arts, Therapy and Empowerment) as a way to make the benefits of art therapy accessible to everyone. Even to those who might not think they are interested in therapy.
From her years working as an art therapist in a number of hospitals, Lopez said that there is a step missing between patients who are getting the help they need at the hospital when they’re in a crisis and having patients manage themselves at home.
“. . . but it’s kind of sad that their only access to creative coping techniques was when they were in crisis,” Lopez said.
Art therapy isn’t covered under most health insurance plans and for many it’s not possible to gain access to outside of a hospital setting. But that’s where C.R.E.A.T.E. Community Studios steps in.
“I really wanted to have a space where anyone from the population can come and can intersect,” Lopez said.
The Saratoga space is right on Broadway, in the Collamer building. There are several other organizations in the same building that seem to fit in with the Studio’s mission: there's Wellspring, Grec's own art therapy office, and another therapy office. Although the studio space is relatively small, it allows intimate conversations to not feel out of place. During open studio time, Lopez and Grec have seen a handful of community members who were hesitant to work in the space at first become regulars. They come in throughout the week and either work on specific projects or on their own creations.
“It’s really nice to see that everyone is totally fine having open conversations about issues and it’s a real mix,” Lopez said.
During open studio hours, a teen dealing with self-harm issues may be working alongside an adult who has little to no experience with those issues. Making art is a way for the two to start a conversation and maybe gain insight into each other's lives.
“They’re more relaxed and they’re more self-motivated now,” Lopez said.
While Saratoga has a rich arts community, with The Arts Center and various galleries, C.R.E.A.T.E. focuses on the community aspect of making artwork.
“We’re good at talking about the things we know how to talk about. But if you’re not ‘there’ yet with some things you can dive into the process with art making and talk about the art making. There’s a step there between that makes it easier to drop into what’s really happening,” Grec said.
Grec recently started a LGBTQ + Teen Art Group, which meets at the Studio on Thursday evenings.
“In that way it’s an art therapy group . . . it has the space to go in deep and process some of the struggle of growing up different than many other people. But we have so much fun. I mean, really my credential for being there is that I’m gay and that I’m older than they are and know what they are going through,” Grec said.
Both the Saratoga and Schenectady locations also run multiple classes and programs a week.
“We’ve had really great workshops. It’s been fun to see what people have come forward and proposed,” Lopez said. Community members have given writing workshops, animation workshops and painting classes.
In Schenectady, the programs have been growing in popularity over the few months that the State Street studio has been open.
“It’s such a different community. . . It’s fertile for something like this,” Grec said. The workshops and programs offered have included Coping Creatively (an art therapy group), Everything is Lit (about journaling a micro-memoir) and a foundational watercolor class.
So far, the nonprofit has been funded mostly by the founders. But the space is slowly beginning to pay for itself. The cost of the workshops and of the open studio goes to support the Studio. The open studio typically costs $5 and some of the workshops might cost $20 or $30, depending on the materials required.
“One of our goals is to offer most things at a very low cost or free,” Lopez said. They are hoping to reach a point where they can pay the community members who are giving the workshops and help those who might not be able to pay the full amount.
“Everyone seems to feel that there’s a need for this kind of thing. I think people really miss having a way to be creative in their day to day lives,” Lopez said.
This weekend, at the Saratoga location, there will be an opening reception and exhibit called Pictures in Health. Next month, the Schenectady location will hold an opening reception and exhibit as well.
To find out more or to donate, go to www.createcommunitystudios.org
C.R.E.A.T.E. Community Studios
Saratoga Opening Reception
WHEN: 5 p.m. – 8 p.m., Sat., May 20
WHERE: 480-B Broadway, Saratoga Springs, NY. 12866
Schenectady Opening Reception
WHEN: 5 p.m. - 8 p.m., Fri. Jun. 16
WHERE: 137 State Street, Schenectady NY 12305