UW News

December 28, 2011

A way to ‘feel human: School of Social Work fosters social justice, joy through art

News and Information

During her time as a UW student, Jamie Lee would feel off-kilter if she did not paint or draw regularly. Like exercise or eating right, art was a way for her to get some peace amid the pressures of student life.

“Art fed my soul and made me feel more like a person,” Lee said of the time she spent volunteering at a University District art studio that serves homeless youth.  “I felt unhealthy if I didnt go to the art center.”

The idea that art can be enriching and engage the mind is part of the reason why the School of Social Work, where Lee earned a masters degree, created an art committee  to stage art exhibits and expand its art collection.  The committees mission, in part, is to provide a creative medium for the exchange of diverse viewpoints.

The next exhibit begins Jan. 5 featuring about 20 paintings and drawings from youths who create works through the Sanctuary Art Center, where Lee is now director of development. The works will be shown in the first floor gallery of the School of Social Work, 4101 15th Ave. NE in Seattle.

The school will host a public reception from 4 to 6 p.m. on Wed., Jan. 11 to kick off the exhibit. Some of the youths from the art center will attend.

Established in 1999, the Sanctuary Art Center gives homeless young people aged 13 to 25 in the University District “a chance to get off streets, put their bags down, have a cup of coffee and be creative,” Lee said. “For some it can be as involved as a large piece of work. Or for others, its just picking up a pencil and coloring something in.”

There isnt a typical story for why theyre on the streets. Some of the youths who come to the Sanctuary Art Center are former foster kids, who aged out of the system or left it. Others were kicked out of homes or left because of their sexual orientation or religion. Some were abused or have mental health issues. A few are veterans.

In a video one youth described the art center as, “a place where at least for a few hours I can feel human and cared for. Where I can learn to let go of the resentment and frustration of homelessness and build hope for life and faith in myself.”

The School of Social Work began its art initiative in 2011 as a way to highlight how social work connects people to one another and helps them flourish and find happiness in their lives. Its a piece of the schools belief that everyone has a right to justice, joy and beauty.

“Art heals the mind,” said Mike Winans, grants manager and a member of the schools art committee. He has art experience too. Painting “brought me closer to things going on in my life,” said Winans, who would spend 6 to 8 hours at a time painting murals of city and landscapes.

One of his colleagues on the art committee, Madeline Galbraith, agreed.  She paints and sketches animals as a hobby and said that non-work pursuits like art are an important way to find solace from stress at work.

“Self-care is especially important for social workers so that they may help more vulnerable populations,” said Galbraith, who is assistant to the associate dean of academic affairs at the School of Social Work.

The exhibit will run until March 15. The school is planning another exhibit, “Social Movements: The Personal Becomes the Political,” featuring works done by School of Social Work students. That exhibit will run March 26 – June 8.