September 23, 2021

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Sandra (Kagin) Graves-Alcorn, PhD, ATR-BC, LPAT, a member of the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) since its first meeting, and retired professor of expressive therapies at the University of Louisville. She served as president of AATA from 1985 to 1987.

Dr. Graves-Alcorn’s interest in art therapy first began in a child psychology class at the University of Tulsa in 1964. She was so excited when the professor mentioned the term “art therapy,” she explained in her book, Implementing the Expressive Therapies Continuum, as she herself had been wondering if art could be used in psychology and healing. 

Years later, when she and her husband moved to Kentucky, Dr. Graves-Alcorn contacted the University of Louisville seeking a teaching position. It turned out that the art therapy master’s degree program was defunct, so she was invited to resurrect one. That’s when “serendipity took over”: her interview to become a faculty member in June 1969 occurred on the same day when several art therapy pioneers were meeting on the same campus to develop a professional art therapy organization! Dr. Graves-Alcorn became a founding member of the American Art Therapy Association and chair of the education committee—having been hired by the University of Louisville only an hour earlier. 

In the early 1970’s, Dr. Graves-Alcorn founded the Institute of Expressive Therapies, which included music, dance, drama, and poetry in the curriculum. She believed that “together… expressive arts therapists are stronger and have more influence to make a difference in health care.” She taught for 30 years before retiring to practice in the private sector. Upon her retirement from the University of Louisville, Dr. Graves-Alcorn was awarded the distinction Outstanding Alumnae.

Dr. Graves-Alcorn co-wrote Implementing the Expressive Therapies Continuum with Professor Christa Kagin, her former student who became her daughter-in-law. She served as co-therapist for Survivors of Suicide and founded SAME (Surviving a Murder Effectively), helped develop RESPOND, a crisis team comprising a coalition of mental health agencies in Louisville, and was appointed to the Kentucky Governor’s Task Force on Childhood Sex Abuse. She also served on the board of Expressive Media, Inc., a nonprofit founded by Dr. Judy Rubin.