CAT program opens gallery in honor of Black History Month

Portrait of Barack Obama by Vondel Bell.

In recognition of Black History Month, which takes place annually during the month of February, West Liberty University’s Creative Arts Therapy (CAT) program put together a gallery within their space above the Student Union here on campus to honor art therapy pioneers of color. West Liberty University students Jessica Snow, Elizabeth Eames, Taylor Nelson and Kassidy Wolfe — all CAT majors — volunteered to put this information together for the campus community. The work displayed informational pieces detailing various Black individuals within the community of Art Therapy. These included Charles Anderson, ATR-BC, Dr. Lucille Venture, PhD., ATR, Georgette Seabrooke-Powell, ATR, Dr. Sarah McGee, ATR and Cliff Joseph, ATR.

As stated within the gallery’s description, “these individuals are accomplished artists, educators, activists and art therapists who elevated the field of Art Therapy beyond its historical roots in psychoanalytic theory, which, at the time, was based upon the research of the ‘moderately disturbed’ from primarily middle class, white individuals.” Dr. Lucille Venture, in particular, was a champion in recognizing that “art therapy based in this theory is not available or useful to individuals with diverse needs,” and Dr. Sarah McGee “emphasized [the integration] of cultural values and familiar materials in practice.” Through focusing on the “innate healing qualities of creativity” and pushing to expand the bounds of the accessibility and openness of their field, these individuals “broadened the definition of art therapy beyond a medicinal model.”

In conjunction with these more educational displays, the work of Vondel Bell, an “East Wheeling native and former football star at Wheeling Park High School and California University of Pennsylvania,” as stated on his respective informational display, was also showcased. As a mural, portrait and graphic artist, Bell has 300 plus works to his name, many of which include large scale pieces that have found their homes in the hallways of Bridge Street Middle School, Wheeling Park High School, and West Liberty University. Bell has also done a mural piece that sits atop the newly renovated McClure hotel in downtown Wheeling. Alongside some photos detailing his work and his own artist statement, the gallery was lucky enough to be able to showcase two of Bell’s portrait pieces of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and former president Barack Obama.

Terri Giller, an instructor of the creative arts therapy program, spoke on the importance of art therapy education being accessible to people of color as “future and current art therapy students must be able to see themselves represented in the field and in the history of the profession… Cultural humility and cultural competence must be a foundation of art therapist education.” When asked to discuss the significance of Black History in relation to the field and community of Creative Arts Therapy, Giller noted that the very nature of art therapy is alternative and it is imperative that diverse perspectives and experiences be considered when reaching out to communities that “may not have access to art therapy through mental health, physical health or educational systems… All of this is vital to approaching these barriers. The lives and careers of these pioneers gives us a roadmap on how to do these things.”