It’s not always easy to find the right words. In fact, when dealing with a traumatic event such as an illness or a death, many people—especially kids—find that they just can’t talk about it. That’s where Lisa Durst ’06 steps in with a paint brush and a blank canvas.
As an art teacher at the Clark-Pleasant Intermediate School in Johnson County, Ind., Lisa noticed that often when children are dealing with grief or trauma, they may not be able to express their feelings verbally, but they can draw or paint to let out some of their emotions. After a car accident that nearly took her life and did take the life of the other driver, Lisa found that painting was a way for her to work on her own recovery and process her emotions. She had always been artistic growing up, and when she learned about a program in California called Art4Healing that would teach her about using art to deal with grief, illness, loss, and stress, she knew that she needed to attend.
Finding comfort in art
“The program actually started on Wall Street as a way to help employees reduce stress,” she says. “You respond to emotions with paint and color, and you nonverbally release what issues you are dealing with. You can then verbalize as much or as little as you want.” Lisa attended the program and became certified in the Art4Healing process, and she brought her new skills back to her school in Indiana. In 2012, she formed a nonprofit called “Peace of heART” and started her first after-school program for kids who were dealing with anger. It was then that she first met young Emma Stumpf.
Emma (lower left) was a fifth grader at the time, and she was dealing with an inoperable brain tumor that was discovered when she was seven. She underwent 70 weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation to stabilize the tumor. During all those treatments and days spent at Riley Children’s Hospital in Indianapolis, Emma found that art was a way for her to express her feelings and vent frustrations. When Emma joined Lisa’s after-school program, the two quickly bonded.
“I noticed in Emma’s sketch book that her dream was to start an art cart for the kids at Riley Hospital,” says Lisa. Emma said that there were many days when she was too sick to make the trip down to the art room at Riley. She wanted to create a cart that could go from room to room delivering art supplies to children, allowing them to create, paint, or draw right from their bed.
Lisa called Riley to ask what needed to happen to make Emma’s dream come true. She began asking anyone and everyone for donations and even got the students at the intermediate school involved to create small clay pendants (pictured) to sell as a fundraiser. Each pendant came with a paper describing Emma’s story, her dream, and a heartfelt thank you. When the money came in, Lisa began to purchase art supplies: crayons, coloring books, markers, paints, clay, notepads, stickers, glitter glue, drawing kits—anything kids could work with. The items were put into individual bags and affixed with a sticker saying “Emma’s Art Cart.”
On June 27, 2014, Lisa and Emma and her family proudly delivered 301 art kits to Riley, enough for each child in the hospital. “I love that Emma’s dream came true,” says Lisa. “I’m so happy that we made this happen.” Each art kit comes with Emma’s story. The kits are kept at nurses’ stations throughout the hospital and have been such a success that Riley has asked for more kits and carts to be kept at the emergency room, outpatient center, and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Since that first delivery of art kits, approximately 1,500 kits have been given to the hospital.
For her work with the hospital, Emma was nominated as a 2015 Riley Champion. And for her work with Emma and the students, Lisa was named 2014 Art Educator of the Year by the Arts Council of Indianapolis. The award recognizes outstanding contributions to Indianapolis arts and cultural organizations.
More than words
As Lisa continues to collect more art supplies and solicit donations for more art kits, her small home art studio is becoming more of a storage area, but she doesn’t mind. She continues to work with students after school and hopes to expand her classes and offerings. “I want to help kids—and help them through art,” she says. “It helped me tremendously, and I want to show others how beneficial art as therapy can be. “It’s nice to know that you’re helping them to deal with things they can’t verbalize. They know they aren’t alone.”
To sponsor a child for the after-school program or to donate to Emma’s Art Cart, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thepeaceofheart.org