Back in October 2018, I had the opportunity to fulfill a goal of mine – to speak about the benefits the act of creation can have. I got to talk to a room full of professionals and brain injury survivors about the little talked about physical benefits creativity can have. The emotional benefits are often the focus – especially as it relates to helping returning Veterans cope with PTSD. Art therapy is all the buzz at the moment – and for good reason. But let’s take a step back for just a minute.
The Call for Papers
Earlier this year, my husband and I attended a resource fair for brain injury survivors and their caregivers. For once, we were going to something to support HIM and not me. It felt good to be able to do that. While there, we met the director of the Maine chapter of the Brain Injury Association of America. Through our conversation, we exchanged contact information and I was invited to submit a proposal to be a presenter at the conference that was scheduled for October. Initially, all they wanted me to do was present and lead the end of day workshop – which I ended up doing as well. I led an ornament painting session to close out the day…more on that later. I felt like I had a shoe in for the workshop aspect of the conference. I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and submit a second proposal – an introduction to the physiological benefits art therapy and art as therapy can have.
Happy Happy Joy Joy - BOTH Proposals were Selected!
Getting the notification that BOTH proposals were accepted was pretty spectacular. I started panicking slightly because the presentation part would be the first time I’d be speaking in that capacity about the difference between art as therapy and art therapy and why it could (and should) play an important role in a person’s self care. Especially as it related to the brain injury population. As luck would have it, I had quite a few setbacks over the summer that made it so I was finishing my presentation AND unloading a kiln full of ornaments the morning of the conference. Thankfully I wasn’t scheduled to speak until after lunch. We ended up missing the morning sessions because of these set backs.
The Day of the Conference
As I mentioned above, I had some setbacks. The first setback I had, was that I had allowed my PTSD to run the show for a bit too long. I was in a bout of depression and was having a REALLY hard time shaking it. I didn’t do much of anything except for sleep and eat. My productivity sucked for about three months leading up to the presentation..I didn’t work on my slide show AT ALL. Until the night before. I knocked it out while the kiln was firing…
Which was the second setback. As a result of the lack of drive and motivation to do anything, I was ill prepared for the second presentation I was doing that day – the hands on workshop to close out the day. I had proposed doing the same class that I teach at the Travis Mills Foundation – an introduction to painting bisqued ceramic ornaments with acrylic paint (also known as a cold finish). In preparation for the workshop, I made a lot of brain shaped ornaments – all of them with a lovely paisley print texture. I was unloading a HOT kiln the morning of event. I had an element that apparently needed replacing, causing the firing to take much longer than anticipated. So with the gloves on and wire racks, I unloaded about 100 ornaments at 450*F and then moved the ornaments outside to cool so that they could be handled.
We got to the conference just before the keynote speech was being given. We were able to see Suzanne Morneault receive an award for all the work she has done within the brain injury community. Her organization – All Things Become New, “Have of Rest” provides a home for caregivers of those with brain injuries to go and take a mini vacation at free of charge. It’s located in a small town in northern Maine called Eagle Lake. Beautiful location in the middle of the woods with lots of wildlife. A perfect location for a little R&R, to recharge. She has recently opened up this service to Veterans as well.
And then it was lunch time… and then I was set to present…Which is where I encountered yet another set back/hiccup…
Time to Present
My husband (who was there with me) and I went to go find the room where I was scheduled to give my presentation. It was warm, the A/C wasn’t really working. And when I tried to hook up my computer to the provided projector… it was discovered that the hosting hotel’s IT department did not have the right adapter too hook my Lenovo Thinkpad up to the projector… Well shit. Now what? That presentation I worked all night on seemingly was not going to be used. Well…it’s a good thing I had printed 50 copies of presentation as handouts for those who wanted them. And it’s an even better thing that I printed 50 copies..because the room I was in was PACKED. My presentation, “An Introduction to the Physiological Benefits of Art as Therapy”, was a hit! Despite all the mishaps and stumbles leading up to that point. The feedback I got concerning my presentation was very helpful; and most of the negative feedback had nothing to do with me – the room being stuffy and too hot and no presentation on the overhead screen were two items that were out of my control.
After this presentation, we had a little bit of a break before I was going to leading the hands on workshop. Hubby got me a cold drink (heat makes some of my myasthenia gravis symptoms flare up) and we went to go find the room where I would be next. I’m really glad I made as many ornaments as I did because the room was packed! While everyone LOVED the hands on workshop…there were definitely some mis-steps that I had and have learned from.
The Hands-on Workshop
I had been told that there were quite a few people who had signed up for this session of the conference. And boy were there! The room was PACKED as I mentioned above. I failed to plan for this, as well as the likely layout of the room, when I planned on how to distribute the supplies. I figured an assembly line type of set up would work. Pick up a paint brush, pick an ornaments, grab some paint and away ya go. Well, when there are 50 people waiting to go through a single line.. it takes a while. Lesson One from this session – have at least two lines for people to get their supplies. This also means I need at least two of every color so that way everyone has the same opportunity to get the colors they want. Lesson two has to do with the set up. In the future, I may have to limit the number of participants OR request a larger conference room that provides more room for maneuverability. On the plus side, this room was more well ventilated than the first. And lesson three… plan for disabilities other than developmental and physical when presenting at a brain injury conference where survivors and caregivers are in attendance. I had one young lady who was blind, and she was able to paint independently because of the texture..but she required help picking her colors. I know of ways that will allow the visually impaired to choose their colors on their own and will be implementing those for next time (I’m hoping there was a next time…in many of the feedback forms the participants asked for me to come back – YAY).
As my very first speaking opportunity, I was very happy with my performance. I made some errors and I learned a lot. For example, as a result of the organization not having the required technology I needed to give my presentation, I now own my own small projector and appropriate adapters. Even if they are not prepared, I shall be. I learned that having an abundance of handouts is always a good thing, even if you start off wondering if it’s overkill. I learned that having a single assembly line to gather supplies creates a MAJOR bottleneck and wastes precious time.
But the MOST important thing I learned..was that I can do it! It took me a few days to recover from the conference and knowing that allows me to properly plan future speaking engagements. As long as I engage in self care and compassion… this is one part of my art business that I can and absolutely LOVE doing! The second most important thing I learned…was that I absolutely LOVED doing it. I loved showing clinicians and caregivers how engagement in a creative outlet can help with a brain injury patients’ treatment and healing. I was ecstatic working with a young blind girl and seeing the joy in her face when she was able to paint again (she had been an avid painter before losing her vision to a brain injury). I loved sharing my passion with others, and demonstrating that the notion of creating art was NOT just for those who were artistically inclined – it is something that everyone can benefit from.
I can happily say that THIS was the birth of my speaking career. And it couldn’t have been a better place to start.
Shawna is a ceramic sculptor and mixed media artist who loves sharing her passion with others. She is a teaching artist and a strong advocate for the arts being accessible to all. To support her endeavors, consider subscribing to her members-only group! There are a variety of subscription levels starting at just $5/mo. Interested in supporting her arts in health work directly – check out the “art heals” level of support for $15/mo.