October 17, 2021 | Valerie Epstein-Johnson, LPC, ATR-BC; Jacenta Irlanda, LPC, ATR-P; Nicole Xenos, LPC-C, PhD Candidate, Lara K. Rutledge, MA Art Therapy Candidate

On September 18th and 19th, Colorado Art Therapy Association members, Valerie Epstein-Johnson, LPC, ATR-BC, Jacenta Irlanda, MA, LPC, ATR, and Lara K. Rutledge, MA Art Therapy Candidate, partnered with Social Justice Therapist Nicole Xenos of Painted One Healing to support Denver-based BIPOC artists in a community-based art workshop: Every Human Deserves Resilience.

This workshop was hosted at the Globeville Rec Center, an art and recreation space, now maintained by the Birdseed Collective in the Swansea-Globeville neighborhood, a traditionally under-resourced area in Denver, Colorado.

For two days, therapists joined with professional artists Moe Gram, Danielle Seewalker and Karma Leigh to help facilitate a workshop based on Gram’s Every Human Empathy Campaign. This art-based workshop provided a supportive space for BIPOC community members to come together to engage in therapeutic resources, have hard conversations and to create art together. 

What does resilience mean to you? How do you honor your ancestors? What do you want to carry forward for healing?

During the workshop, therapists helped to maintain an environment that was trauma-informed as artists introduced art-making prompts and discussions related to intergenerational resilience. Using a wide range of art materials, like cardboard, fabric, magazine clippings, colored pencils, markers, oil pastels, chalk and charcoal,  community members were encouraged to work on a single art piece for the duration of the workshop. Artworks were inspired by group dialogue surrounding the themes: “What does resilience mean to you?,”  “How do you honor your ancestors?,” and, “What do you want to carry forward for healing?”

Creating a space where community members could have hard conversations about family trauma as well as the opportunity to reflect on ways to move forward provided a tremendous opportunity to promote healing, while also respecting the innate wisdom for healing that community members already have.

Each community member was able to bring a unique perspective and approach to the art-making process. After the workshop, many members commented that they felt they were in a place where they could begin to ‘do the work’ to heal from their family’s past. Facilitators reflected that this workshop fulfilled a strong need for community healing and strengths-based resources for BIPOC individuals in the community. 

How the Workshop Came to Be

Colorado Art Therapy Association (COATA) has been featuring Colorado BIPOC artists on the chapter’s social media platforms since January 2021. When they learned about local artist Moe Gram, COATA reached out to inquire about her Every Human Empathy Campaign

Since 2019, Gram has been encouraging public reflection through art-making in hopes of creating a more empathetic community and world. After speaking with Gram about her work, COATA began to see an opportunity for a community-based collaboration between art therapists and BIPOC artists and Gram agreed.

Over a six month planning period, Gram and COATA met regularly over Zoom to hash out details. Discussions were held about the role of artist and therapist, the BIPOC population and what art materials were appropriate to use. Eventually, COATA and Gram formed independent teams of additional artists and therapists to work out what each could bring to the workshop. 

During this time, therapists focused on how to approach the workshop for the benefit of community members. They established that their role was to create a safe container for the community members, based on the vision and ideas of the artists. Trauma-informed conversations were held for the empowerment and honoring of the BIPOC community members. Artists focused on how to introduce the idea of intergenerational resilience, engage in storytelling about family histories and honoring the experiences of past and future generations. 

The workshop would not have been possible without the help of our amazing sponsors: Creative Arts Parts Reuse Center; Illegal Pete’s of Denver; Moe’s Bagels of Denver; The Coffee Ban of Denver; Naked Herbs of Denver; and Whole Foods.

In addition to our sponsors, the Every Human Deserves Resilience Workshop earned the Inside Fund Grant from Redline Contemporary Art Center of Denver, Colorado. According to Redline, The INSITE Fund is a grant program administered by RedLine and made possible by the The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts Regional Regranting program. This new fund responds to the gap in funding support for artist-driven projects on Colorado’s Front Range. INSITE is a 2-year, $60,000.00 per year, grant program, adding to and reinforcing the importance of funding opportunities that are accessible directly to artists working in an expansive field of ideas, audiences and visual arts practices. 

We are so grateful to our sponsors and grant provider for helping us to make important projects like this possible for our community. 


(Left)Therapist facilitators pose for a selfie before day two of the workshop. (Right) Participants and facilitators create art during the workshop.