3 Questions for Lesley Achitoff

Image by Anonymous depicting hands holding bars in a jail cell, with a face that shows words and images cut out from magazines: 'BOLD', 'love', 'People', 'FAMILY', 'HEART', 'happy', 'STRONG', 'War', 'pain', 'Live', and an image of 2 children, as a part of a face

Lesley Achitoff (MPS Class of 2004) is the curator for the upcoming exhibition, MySelf: Artwork and writings created by people incarcerated on Rikers Island, on view October 4-November 16 in the MPS Art Therapy 5th Floor Gallery at 132 West 21 Street.

  1. Can you describe the work you do at Rikers Island?
    My job as Director is to coordinate the Creative Arts Therapy program, which consists of groups facilitated by licensed Art, Music, Drama and Poetry Therapists. Our first priority is to serve the patients in our various Mental Observation Units, and provide them with groups about 3 times each week. We have 10 LCATs on staff, and will be hiring more.
  1. What sort of therapeutic opportunities are available for people incarcerated at Rikers Island?
    Our program provides therapeutic groups in the areas of Art, Music, Poetry and Drama. We also hold Talent presentations to provide opportunities for the participants to share their many skills and abilities. Some of the group facilitators publish booklets of the patients’ work, which is thrilling for them, and which can be shared with their families and loved ones. We are part of clinical teams who provide Mental Health Counseling and DBT groups, and meet weekly to share information, in addition to online documentation. There are also programs to address the needs of MICA patients. Whenever possible, the LCATs of various modalities collaborate.
  1. What is the theme of this year’s show?
    The theme of this year’s show is MySelf, which includes the artists’ chosen ways of expressing their feelings about themselves, their hopes, their disappointments and their strengths. Creating work for this show is extremely therapeutic for our patients, as a form of self-expression and, very importantly, a way to share their humanity with a world that knows little about them but forms many assumptions.

The opening reception will be held Thursday, October 11, 5-8pm. It is open to the public.

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