Art therapy for at-risk teens
Local at-risk teens find catharsis in art
A pretty young woman with choppy, pale-sea-green hair sat in a circle next to a strapping young Hispanic man wearing a bulky, black hoodie.
With them were seven other local teens aged 14 to 18—all assembled in the main meeting room of the modest, beige stucco Community Collaborative for Youth building tucked into the cul-de-sac at the south end of Cedar Street. The voice of Norah Jones drifted through the room as the teenagers chatted about their ages, how tall they are, and shared other tidbits about themselves and their families and friends.
It was your typical teen talk as they checked each other out while munching on breakfast burritos. Four more kids soon joined the group to make it a baker’s dozen.
“Everyone knows me around Chico either one way or another,” one blonde girl announced to the group by way of introduction. “Either it’s good or it’s bad.”
It was the first verbal clue that these were “at-risk” children, gathered together from various local high schools and group homes by local painter and art therapist Cynthia Schildhauer. It was day one of a five-day, art-intensive project dubbed Shatter2Matter 2, designed to help them express themselves in a constructive (yet enticingly destructive) way.
It’s is a slow buildup—beginning with group discussions, journaling and smaller preparatory art projects. At the mid-week summit project the kids will break to bits pieces of old furniture salvaged from thrift shops, and rebuild them into new works of art—specifically tables. Schildhauer hopes to show the beauty (and catharsis) that can come from reassembling cast-off and perhaps even ugly bits of furniture.
She was quick to point out the project’s metaphor for re-seeing one’s self during a planning meeting held recently with fellow local artists David Sisk and Janice Porter, who are co-instructing the project. Local filmmaker Billy Guilfoyle, who is chronicling Shatter2Matter 2 as a short documentary film, was also on hand.
“The last time we did this,” said Schildhauer, referring to the first Shatter2Matter held in 2006, “we made chairs. This time, we decided that we will make tables instead of chairs. Tables as a metaphor for life.”
“You know, under the table, over the table, on the table, things tabled,” piped in Sisk. Sisk, better known locally as Sisko, is a well-known billboard artist in Chico, and will be facilitating the teens’ creation of a photo of themselves with a table, of course that will be erected on a billboard (provided by Stot Advertising) on Broadway shortly after the week’s end.
“It’s the ‘Zen of shatter,’ “ pointed out Sisko in his typically calm and slightly mystical way. “They’ll be breaking things mindfully with the thought of reconstructing.”
Schildhauer came up with the idea for the original Shatter2Matter while talking to a friend (and fellow art therapist) about her earlier days living near a recycling center in the seaside town of Santa Cruz, specifically the satisfaction she got from the sound of shattering glass as she tossed her bottles one by one into the recycling bins.
“I’m not an angry thrower,” said Schildhauer, recalling the therapeutic value of busting bottles. “I had to do it in a controlled way.”
Like Schildhauer did with her Santa Cruz bottle-breaking, the teens at this year’s Shatter2Matter will be breaking up chairs and tables with self-control and purpose, with an eye on re-creating art from somebody’s junk.
“These kids will be dealing with emotions like fear and judgment,” acknowledged Schildhauer. “But compassion will be the most important thing. Honoring that artistic expression is scary. And it’s the best thing you can ever do.”