Trauma-Informed Practices in Arts Education

Paint Love is an organization that has developed a model of five trauma-informed practices to empower youth and strengthen communities.

By Chloe Young, Community Engagement and Development Coordinator for Paint Love.

Paint Love provides extraordinary arts programming to empower youth and strengthen communities around Georgia.

Since our founding in 2014, Paint Love has served over 17,000 youth, working with over 100 community partners, over 65 local artists, and thousands of volunteers.

We partner with professional artists, Title I schools, and nonprofit community partners to deliver arts programming that encourages connection and social-emotional learning through art-making. We work with vulnerable populations and use our model to intentionally create safe spaces and practices to support youth.

Our model comprises five trauma-informed practices:

1. Orient:

We start by orienting our audience, which consists of helping children feel safe in their physical space (i.e., pointing out where the bathrooms are, introducing staff, artists, and volunteers, and providing an example of the project for the day).

2. Regulate:

Children regulate their bodies by doing various movement exercises such as a yoga flow or stretches. Many of our staff members are certified youth yoga instructors, and implementing movement practices and breathing techniques (i.e., breath of joy, lions breath, box breathing) into all of our programs is one of the many ways Paint Love equips children with skills they can use for a lifetime to self-regulate.

3. Create:

The professional artist takes over and leads the group in a process-based activity. For example, Paint Love 2021-2022 Emerging Trauma-Informed Artist Cohort member AP Faust led a group from Kate’s Club (one of Paint Love’s longtime nonprofit partnership sites serving youth experiencing the loss of a parent or loved one in Georgia) in a collage activity focusing on how our emotions present themselves and how they feel in our bodies. Children used different materials ranging from high-quality card stock paper to National Geographic magazines to create self-portraits depicting a range of emotions.

4. Reflect:

We ask open-ended questions to encourage young minds to think about the art-making process and what they have just experienced in relation to how they are feeling.

5. Share:

If a child feels comfortable enough to share their work, we encourage them to voice their thoughts. Creating can be a vulnerable experience for children, and Paint Love provides a safe space to express and experience big emotions.

We encourage process-based art as much as the final product and uplift youth to create freely. Our programming teaches resilience and hope to youth facing challenges and inequities. Additionally, we want the arts to be another healing, supportive resource to communities.

Example: Brumby Elementary School:

In the spring of 2022, Paint Love partnered with Brumby Elementary School, a Title I School in Marietta, Georgia, to create a mural that embodies the theme of dreaming without limits.

At the center of the mural is Aku, the creation of former Atlanta Braves player Micah Johnson. Johnson gifted an NFT of Aku to Brumby for the project. Paint Love artist Candace Caston, along with Paint Love staff and volunteers and Brumby teachers, led students through conversations about their dreams and hopes. More than 1,000 young artists at Brumby Elementary School created and added their one-of-a-kind space-themed plant to the 19-foot retaining wall. Atlanta muralist Muhammad Yungai then painted Aku floating over the space garden, watering and nurturing the students’ plants.

Renowned Atlanta-based professional artist/muralist Muhammed Yungai meeting the students and discussing their dreams!
Kennesaw State University Student volunteering
A class after they completed painting their unique space plant on the 19-foot retaining wall.

“Art is a meditative process. Focusing on utilizing your breath opens up space for creativity and is essential in art-making. Asking youth to self-reflect and identify how they feel in the art-making space gives us the power to better recognize how our emotions appear in our artwork. As we flow through the trauma-informed model, we ask kids to make creative decisions, feel empowered to take on new artistic challenges, and listen to themselves.”

-Ruby Skillman, from Paint Love’s Young Creatives Teenage Volunteer Program

Chloe Young

Chloe Young is the Community Engagement and Development Coordinator for Paint Love.

Paint Love provides extraordinary arts programming to empower youth and strengthen communities. You can support Paint Love’s mission by volunteering your time, bringing our programming to your space, following us on social media @paintlove, and donating to bring the arts to youth. For more information, visit www.paintlove.org.

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