Art therapy is a mental health profession that uses the creative process of art making to help individuals of all ages resolve conflicts, develop interpersonal skills, manage behavior, reduce stress, increase self-esteem, strengthen self-identity, and achieve insight.
Just as art possesses many forms and meanings, art therapists work in diverse settings, using a myriad of styles and techniques. Some choose to work outside of the clinical setting, bringing art therapy "to the community."
"Art is not only a form of action, it is a form of social action. For art is a type of communication, and when it enters the environment it produces its effects just as any other form of action does."
- Rothko, The Artist’s Reality: Philosophies of Art (Yale UP, 2004)
Art therapists working with Project Focus view art as a catalyst for social change. They believe people respond best when they can relate to an issue using art to provide a sense of personal relevancy and connection.
Artists, educators and activists in Uganda have long been using the arts as a way to facilitate social change. Project FOCUS collaborates with Ugandan organizations who promote self-sustaining income-generating projects through training at-risk groups to become skilled artisans. By improving and selling their craft, Ugandan artisans can provide for their daily needs and gain a sense of pride and accomplishment in their work.
Ugandan community leaders have also integrated education about AIDS and other health issues into basket-weaving, bead-making, printing, fabric design, dance and theatre, recognizing art as a great tool for communication.
Ugandan artists use story-telling and illustration to help those displaced by war in the Northern area of Uganda to express and make sense of their trauma.
Art therapists from Project FOCUS believe that practicing clinical, “Western” art therapy in Uganda would be inappropriate given the differences in culture and communication. Instead they have chosen to focus on art-based groups aimed to promote cross-cultural dialogue and education about health and community. Through art-making, documentation and exhibition, Project FOCUS uses the arts as a powerful way to engage the public and break through the barriers of silence and apathy.