I have spent my summer interning in Seattle at an arts and social justice non-profit called Path with Art. The organization offers arts courses in a variety of mediums, – ranging from painting and printmaking, to theater, poetry, dance, and singing – and arts engagement opportunities throughout the city to adults recovering from homelessness, addiction, and other trauma as a form of finding stability and building community. Path with Art currently partners with over 30 social service organizations, employs 23 professional teaching artists, and collaborates with arts organizations such as the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Art Museum, the Richard Hugo House, and the Seattle Opera.
My official title is the Programming and Communications Intern, though that only begins to meet the surface of all the things I have gotten to do with Path with Art. I started working at a very exciting time for the organization – they had just received their largest grant thus far from the Washington Women’s Foundation the week I arrived! I immediately hit the ground running, helping to prepare and send out a press release announcing the gift. Path with Art currently only has four full time staff members which has given me the opportunity to experience and work with every aspect of the organization. I work with students and teaching artists alongside the two-person Program team, write newsletters and work on promotional materials with the Community Relations Manager, and help create materials for grants with the Executive Director. I even got to, almost accidentally, sit in on part of a Board of Directors meeting.
Working with Path with Art has given me a lot of insight into the arts scene in the city and the ways cities like Seattle attempt to interact with its visibly large homeless population downtown. One of the most redeeming aspects of my internship has definitely been getting to meet the students and finding the ways arts engagement truly serves as a form of healing. During a ceramics class, several students began talking about what brought them to class that day. One student mentioned how he had become a father at young age. After losing touch with his partner and son, he decided to try and turn things around for himself in order to become a positive presence in his son’s life. He had heard that his son and his mom began taking pottery classes together. This inspired him to sign up for this ceramics class with Path with Art in order to have something in common to talk to his son about whenever he would get to see him.
Stories like this one are abundant among our student population. In early July, I got to help run a visual arts exhibit (in which I got to move literal walls – a story unto itself) that featured artwork created by our students during the past few months in classes. This event was free and open to the public, inviting the larger community to learn about some of our students’ stories and experiences through their creative process. These exhibits are an opportunity for the larger community to hear some of these stories and learn about the people that often go unnoticed, as present as they may be in the city.
What I have found most powerful about the work this organization does is the safe and creative space it fosters for the fragile, often overlooked population it serves. Within these classes, students are encouraged to find themselves as creative people, ones worthy of recognition as artists. Being in this space does not shield them from thinking of whatever difficult experiences they have gone through – living on the streets, recovering from addiction, or losing friends and family. Rather it encourages them to take these experiences and understand them as important parts of their identity, parts which inspire their creativity and their art. Their obstacles are no longer simply another statistic or something limiting to their character and perception from others; it instead becomes a rich and meaningful creative source for their art.
Path with Art is careful not to promote their programs as art therapy. Although it does take great care in supporting their students as best as they can, it celebrates the opportunity to allow its students to simply partake in art as the wholesome individuals they are. During a teacher training I attended, our guest social worker and presenter talked about how often his clients, our students, are said to be broken, in need of fixing and stitching back up together. “Folks aren’t glass,” he said. “You can’t break people.” The power of Path with Art, and of art overall, I am finding, is that it recognizes this as its core: Everyone is whole, capable of immense creativity and worthy of having their story shared, regardless of how many challenging or dark experiences they have had to overcome.
I have only one day left at Path with Art as I write this. I feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to work closely with such a small, hard-working staff. With so few people managing a rapidly growing organization, I was able to get a good sense all the inner workings of a non-profit. I also count myself lucky getting to try my hands at so many new forms of art, and build relationships with the incredibly courageous, creative, and caring people Path with Art students are.