Phoenix House News & Views: Performing and Visual Arts Issue

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Message From The President

Dear Friends,
Autumn is a time of change – personal as well as environmental. As the days turn colder, many of us spend more time indoors, engaged in introspective and creative pursuits. At Phoenix House, creativity is often a hallmark of the recovery process; music, writing, theater and visual arts provide healthy and therapeutic outlets for those struggling with substance abuse.In this issue, we highlight and celebrate our wide range of arts programs – from group painting projects to original performances. We also honor and thank the inspiring individuals – clients, clinicians, and friends like you – who are instrumental in fostering creative expression throughout Phoenix House.
Warm regards,Howard P. Meitiner
President & CEO

Creativity is a Healer
At Phoenix House, our clients often find hope through painting, recording songs, writing poems, and other forms of creative expression. But how exactly does creativity aid the recovery process? “It works as a healer on a number of levels,” says Jack Feinberg, Clinical Director of Phoenix Houses of Florida. “Writing, doing arts and crafts, and making music helps to realign our clients’ brain chemistry and bring them back to a state of healthy emotions.” Feinberg is thrilled that our treatment center in Citra, FL will soon house Phoenix House’s fourth music studio. “Many of our clients are already creative, but they think they need their drug to produce art,” he says. “By having a studio where clients can make music in a safe environment, they’ll learn that creativity comes from within.”

At the Amethyst Unit, a residential program for teenage girls within our Phoenix House Academy at Lake View Terrace, our clinical staff has also witnessed the healing power of the arts. This month, the Unit will hold its fourth annual “Rainbow Girls” performance, inspired by the acclaimed play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf. Seven girls—each representing a color of the rainbow—will share original poetic writings that capture the pain, abuse, and disappointment they’ve survived. “I was a person who avoided my emotions,” says Sarah, 17, this year’s “Rainbow Girls” resident chairperson. “By expressing myself on paper, I have something tangible to help me accept what’s happened and deal with my feelings.” Since coming to Phoenix House six months ago, Sarah has filled three journals. “When I look back at my entries,” she says, “I can see how much I’ve changed.”

The Art of Recovery
Before entering Phoenix House, many of our clients were using illicit drugs. And now? “I’m using a paintbrush!” laughs Fausto M., a young client at our Phoenix House Academy of Yorktown. Fausto and his classmates are working on a breathtaking mural outside the Academy’s recording studio. Jose Rosario, VP and Managing Director of the Academy, says the painting process has taught young clients to channel anger and emotions in a positive way. Fausto has his own take on the endeavor: “It’s fun!” A mural project has also been completed at Phoenix House Academy of Austin.

In California, our visual artists are going high-tech; at the Phoenix House Academy at Lake View Terrace, Program Development Assistant Emily Schuck is leading a 12-week graphic design workshop in partnership with the arts non-profit Create Now. “We teach kids how to channel their creativity into a marketable job skill,” says Schuck. “They are expressing themselves and learning how to lead a productive work life at the same time.” Creativity flourishes outdoors as well; at Phoenix House of Venice, 15 residents created a beautiful patio and garden in collaboration with local artist volunteers and community service group Big Sunday. “At Phoenix House,” says Marc Smith, Music Studio Director of Phoenix House Academy at Yorktown, “clients and staff really understand what a powerful and motivating force art can be. It’s something everyone can take with them along the road to recovery.”

Recovery Through The Performing Arts

“I am constantly amazed by the music that has been created here,” says Music Director John Morabito, who heads the Phoenix Rising Music Program at the Phoenix House Academy of Lake View Terrace. “It is truly remarkable. The music builds up confidence and affirms to our clients that they are going to be OK.” The Phoenix Rising program, founded by celebrated songwriter / performer Kara DioGuardi, gives our young clients the opportunity to compose, perform and record their own music – providing them with effective ways of gaining a deeper self-understanding. The program is also thriving at our Phoenix House Academy at Yorktown, New York, and will be established soon at our Phoenix House Academies in Austin, Texas and Citra, Florida.

Music isn’t the only creative outlet for Phoenix House’s young performing artists; the Phoenix House Academy at Yorktown recently produced its first annual Art of Dance and Theatre Showcase. In collaboration with Partners Possible Arts and Tami Co. Dancing, our young clients worked together to write, produce and portray their own original plays. They also created and performed choreography and dance routines based on different time eras from the sixties to present day. “We want to teach the kids that the arts can be a way to lift yourself above negative surroundings.” Says José Rosario, VP and Managing Director of the Academy. “They can help to transform negative energy into something constructive. It blows your mind what these kids can do.”

Spotlight Story: DH Kim

Art has always been my passion. When I came to the Long Island City treatment program, I began painting images that symbolized recovery. I painted on the staircase of the main building, working every night for about five months. The process allowed me to reflect on the behavior and attitudes that led to my addiction and to think about what I could change.

Painting was also a way to challenge myself and to conquer that challenge. I studied fine arts in college, but I was using at the time and never finished. It was amazing to discover that I could still draw. I was honored when a video I made of the staircase won a multimedia award from the OASAS Recovery Fine Arts Festival.

With the support of my peers and the staff at Phoenix House, especially Jose Rosario and Denise Buckley, I completed my treatment in July and moved home. Spending time with my wife and my kids is indescribable. I can look at people in the eye now. I know that I have a choice. I never expected treatment to be such a strong and powerful thing.

To watch DH Kim’s award-winning “Stairway to Recovery” video, click here and scroll down.

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