Reflecting on SVA’s 32nd Annual Art Therapy Conference

Reflecting on the Art Therapy Conference

This year for our annual conference, keynote speaker Pablo Helguera shared wisdom about socially engaged art, speaking against a purely altruistic approach and encouraging a productive conflict, while also warning about the risks of conflict or failure when you are working with people. In the afternoon, four workshops were offered for conference-goers to attend and participate in an experience that might expand the boundaries on social engagement.


Pablo Helguera and Barbara Ellmann Workshop
The participants were asked to participate in a mock gallery opening setting and mingle with others based on a persona or occupation they were given. Secret adjectives were then taped to the participants backs where others were allowed to read and respond to the person with the inclusion of this quality.
“The workshop with Pablo and Barbara was an informative experience on how stigma can influence and inform an interpersonal experience. Within the mock gallery opening setting, it was a challenge to have a conversation with someone while trying to inform them of the quality that was displayed on their back. It required me to force a reaction to the quality/adjective they were unaware of. It brought up issues of stigmas to class, occupation, race, and gender that made it uncomfortable for me to spark conversation with others. It caused me to tap into the wider society’s stance of that kind of person and become someone I am not inherently comfortable with. Pablo did say the experience would make us uncomfortable but I am glad that it happened in a community of other art therapists and people with like-minded intuitions. If I were to lead the workshop, I would have put the unknown quality on the person’s forehead and given a more specific mock setting (waiting room in a hospital, watching a sports event, attending a political rally… something to spark conversation about and utilize it to spin your persona around). ”
~ SVA Student, Dana Hillebrand

Melissa Malzkuhn Workshop
A “Visual Narrative” workshop offered to participants in American Sign Language. Melissa presented technology she has created to engage children in the deaf community.
“She was intelligent and funny and did a great job of keeping the crowd engaged. I was happy to sit in on a lecture on a topic of which I know nothing about. Melissa is certainly a major force in her field and it was a pleasure to hear about how her passions and work align. I assisted Melissa with setup and the timing of her lecture.”
~ SVA Student, Francesca DeBiaso

Miriam Simun Workshop
Participants were invited to smell a scent while tasting food and engage in how the experience challenged their relationship to food and the memories they hold or invoke.
“It was a really interesting experience. I felt that her Ghostfood project was really multidimensional, in that it made us react both personally and globally to the experience. The scent of chocolate milk brought up my personal memories of being a kid, and the artificially scented dolls and stuffed animals meant to smell of chocolate that I used to play with as a child. The experience of trying to create these tastes also made me reflect on the future of the world, and the future of the people who will inhabit it. Right now, the idea of drinking chocolate milk and eating peanut butter using a strange contraption sounds absolutely outrageous, but as global warming worsens and the state of different ecosystems begins to be permanently damaged, these foods might not be available, and people may not be able to have similar experiences as us. Miriam’s project, on the whole, becomes a personal reflection on the self and global warming.”
~ SVA Student, Aline Filipe

Todd Shalom Workshop
A participatory walk around the Highline in NYC that introduced attendees to new ways to read and respond to their surroundings in a collaborative investigation of the everyday. Various techniques from other art forms, including photography, poetry, movement, and sound, were used to shape and alter perspectives. Technical concerns, such as encouraging participation, forming a compelling narrative, and designing a walk route were also covered.


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