Art as a Response to Community Violence

Today there was a fatal shooting in Manchester, NH which resulted in a local high school being in “sheltered in place” or “lockeddown” as a safety precaution. Several city blocks and an entire neighborhood was secured by local law enforcement in order to keep the community safe while first responders, school personnel, and community leaders worked to save the victim, prevent other injuries and to apprehend the alleged suspect. The response was quick, appropriate and minimized loss of life. There was a single fatality: a tragedy for the family and friends of the victim. Watching this unfold over social media and the news, I became aware of the many lives this event touched in a very traumatic way: children and parents separated for hours (although for very good reason) wondering about each other’s well-being, first responders attending to the injured, law enforcement securing the safety of the city residents, bus drivers transporting children, school officials calming students, neighbors sheltered in place, and the list can go on.

When an event like this occurs in our community, our home town and our “homes” or other safe havens, it is traumatic. It can take days, weeks and even months to make sense of such events. Our bodies, minds and spirits attempt to process our experiences in many ways: retelling the story of the event, ensuring accountability, grieving the loss of life and security, and even numbing ourselves to the potential fears associated with such an event. With social media and the 24-second news cycle, it is can be hard not to “normalize” such events as they have become frequent and we learn about them quickly through graphic images and reports.

After the immediate safety concerns are addressed, I have found that artistic expression can be useful in allowing individuals, families, groups and communities to process the emotions, thoughts and even somatic symptoms that may result from witnessing an act of violence in your community. There are times when words just cannot capture or express our experiences. Many people in Manchester, may feel “impacted” by this event even if they were not “sheltered in place”, a friend or family member of the victim, or a first responder. Perhaps the events of the day left them feeling unsettled, concerned for safety, reminded of past violence they have witnessed or experienced. All of these responses are normal, yet, we can be reluctant to speak about them. These feelings and thoughts can be stored in our bodies and emerge later in unsuspecting ways if they remain unexpressed, including for those who were primary victims, directly impacted or even first responders.

Historically, the arts (music, poetry, visual art, dance, and theatre) have become powerful vehicles to describe, explain, express and communicate these traumatic human experiences. I encourage people to find a way to “talk” about how this event has effected them even if they can not find actual words for their experience. Additionally, making and sharing art around these events can combat the isolation and fear we feel about such experiences. Consider the social impact and healing nature of engaging in the arts as we as a community recover from this most recent event in our city. Tomorrow, ironically, is Art Jam Riverside in Manchester, an arts-based event dedicated to improving the recovery aspects of our community around the opioid/substance abuse challenges in our state. This is an example of how the arts can bring communities together to heal from social challenges and human suffering. In closing, create some art in the next few days whether it is journaling, drawing, painting, rapping, dancing. If you feel reluctant to create some art, then go out into our community and see, hear or witness some art, preferably with others. Art has the power to heal us and remind us of the beauty and resilience of the human experience.

New Start at Change of Art NH!

Happy New Year from Change of Art NH! We hope that everyone got through the holidays with health, wellness and some happiness. The New Year can bring on stress for some people with all the pressure to make resolutions. I found one that I really liked, The Minimialist Challenge offered by my friend Christine McKenna. It’s quite simple. You choose a month. Each day of that month you throw away that number of items you no longer need or use. So, today, January 5th, I discarded 5 items I no longer need or haven’t used in over six months. I’m kind of worried about the 31st. It’s been pretty easy so far. Today I discarded empty CD cases, small notebooks I picked up at conferences I never used, old holiday decorations I haven’t used in two years, donated old books etc. This is a resolution I can live with and it benefits me and others. Happy New Year and Happy Clean House and Simpler Living!