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At North Salem Schools, Art Provides an Avenue for Emotional Expression

Student from North Salem School District who participated in Vicky Youngman’s Healing Through 
the Arts workshop (photo courtesy of North Salem School District)

by Sarah Divi, Communications Specialist at North Salem Central School District

“Take a moment to focus…Get into a calm, peaceful headspace, find a safe place within you…and paint from there,”
said artist Vicky Youngman as she led the assembled group through mindful breathing. Motion gradually returned to the North Salem Middle/High School cafeteria as faculty and students picked up paintbrushes to swirl glaze on ceramic tiles.

Youngman, an ArtsWestchester teaching artist, encouraged the group to use lines and patterns to align with their feelings: “Don’t worry about being representational; it doesn’t need to look like anything.”

The group each painted four-inch tiles to contribute to a larger ArtsWestchester project, Healing Through The Arts, a hands-on activity designed to provide an expressive outlet for addressing challenging emotions. The project plans to collect 500 tiles from Westchester residents and arrange them into culminating community murals to display around Westchester later this year. 

North Salem senior Phineas Keenan found it relaxing to sit and paint with others: “I would like to have more activities like this at school and get more people involved. I want to see how they take the tiles and turn them into something bigger.”

NY Project Hope representatives also spoke with students, facilitating conversations about the pandemic and providing counseling as needed. Says Jess Belanger, a counselor from the COVID-19 crisis-counseling program: “Often kids are unable to put words to their feelings. It helps to express how the pandemic made them feel through art.”

North Salem school counselor Melissa Smith organized the activity as a culminating event of the school’s Mental Health and Wellness Fair: “We want to give the kids another healthy outlet to express themselves.”

Adds Youngman: “My hope is that they can find a peaceful safe space within themselves that they can use whenever they’re feeling anxious or upset. If they know how to go into that place, they can use that skill throughout their lives in any circumstances.”

A version of this article first appeared in the July-August 2022 issue of ArtsNews, ArtsWestchester’s monthly publication. ArtsNews is distributed throughout Westchester County. A digital copy is also available at artsw.org/artsnews.

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