Through our Featured Member series, AATA celebrates the work of our members. During the coronavirus pandemic, we are inviting members to share their experiences about how their professional and personal lives have changed.

September 9, 2021


What has changed (or remained the same) in your job during the COVID-19 pandemic? 

The abrupt shift to online and hybrid learning and teaching has been a sizable challenge for everyone in the field of education. Where we were once reluctant to use digital formats for class meetings, group experiences, art making, and providing feedback, we are now comfortable with these tools and appreciate the value they can bring to promote inclusion and expand our creative and expressive toolbox. Like all teachers, I have been required to design and deliver lessons in multiple formats simultaneously to address a range of student needs. I’m grateful that the technology has kept us connected and working towards our goals. However, experiencing connectivity and technical glitches, facilitating awkward or superficial discussions on Zoom or message boards, and making art “together” while in physical isolation, have all brought a deeper appreciation for in-person learning.

“Love Heals All”, by Jennifer Schwartz. Mixed Media Paper Collage. March 18, 2015. I’m usually an expansive, expressive, and messy artist. However, when my late husband died suddenly in 2013, this collage helped me cope with the loss.. The structured design, intricate papercut letters, beautiful textured papers, and ancient wisdom of the message sustained me through this dark time of my life. Love heals, indeed. And art does too!

In what ways have your clients been impacted by COVID-19? Have you been able to continue care? How are you managing your own stress during this time?

All our students have endured immense worry throughout this pandemic, for their own safety, the health of their loved ones, and for their families’ economic security. Some of my students have contracted the virus, persisting even through synchronous remote lessons that they didn’t want to miss while they were sick. Some have lost loved ones to the virus. Some have lost their homes or their family’s income. Some have needed to put their education on hold to focus on work and emotional survival. Overall, our enrollment has remained strong. In the remote and the socially distanced classroom, I noticed students social relationships have been stunted. Where our students were usually very close and supportive of each other from day one of the term, it’s taken longer for them to get to know each other and form those bonds that can be so sustaining and helpful throughout life.

For me, all the challenges of pandemic work and demands on my time have meant many late nights and early mornings. I have had to delegate some projects, set limits on extra commitments, and also schedule sufficient time for family and self-care, including time to make art, music, dance, and cultivate friendships.

How have race related issues, social justice, and racism informed or impacted your work as an art therapist?

There is a sea change happening in art therapy education right now—and it is awesome to be part of and behold. Every lesson, every learning resource, every assessment is being reviewed and revised through a post-colonial, anti-racist lens. This process has been happening simultaneously across many disciplines in earnest over the last year, but the groundwork for this has been laid and there are good resources to draw from among our allied fields. Beyond the pedagogy and the course content, we are also working on removing barriers to access of higher education for students of color, as well as to recruit and mentor art therapy educators of color. We have a long way to go but the tide is turning.

How do you view your role as an art therapist during COVID-19? 

During this time, I have seen people become more receptive to the idea that mental health is vital for survival, and a brief daily mental health routine is just as important as other essential personal hygiene activities. Being stuck at home, we have been resourceful working with everyday materials that we can find lying around the house. With this in mind, I designed a course exploring papercraft techniques, in which we got to experiment with found paper and paperboard such as an empty tissue box, and tried a range of paper construction, collage, sculpture, book, puppet, and other methods. This study led us to learn about many global cultural papercraft traditions. The students also appreciated the potential of papercraft as earth-friendly media.

Jennifer Schwartz, MAAT, ATR-BC, ATCS

A high school senior project experience at a shelter for homeless women and children led Jennifer to investigate the field of art therapy as a career. She wondered what it was about their drawing time together, with simple crayons and paper, that inspired the children to tell her about their housing transitions without even being asked. Jennifer later earned her Bachelor of Arts at Ursuline College and Master of Arts in Art Therapy at Vermont College of Norwich University. She gained 22 years of clinical experience in medical art therapy settings, primarily as Program Manager at the Art Therapy Studio and as Art Therapist at the Centers for Dialysis Care in Cleveland, Ohio. Jen served as Executive Director of the Art Therapy Studio for several years before moving into her full-time position as Undergraduate Art Therapy Department Chair and Field Placement Coordinator at Ursuline College, where she currently holds the rank of Assistant Professor. Jennifer is a mixed media fiber artist who makes art for stress management, personal growth, social action and community building.

Jennifer first joined AATA as an undergraduate student in 1989. Jen served as President of the Buckeye Art Therapy Association from 2002-2006, served as AATA Chapter Delegate, and provided ongoing support for BATA’s Legislative Committee. Jen served as Chair of the AATA Local Arrangements Committee for fabulous 2008 Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. She served on the Undergraduate Education Standards Task Force from 2016-2017 and has served as Chair or Co-Chair of the Undergraduate Education Sub-Committee since its inception in 2018.