Alumni Profiles

Marygrace Berberian

MA, Art Therapy, '96

Marygrace Berberian was shopping at the World Trade Center the morning of September 11, 2001. She made it out unharmed, and soon after returned to her art therapy position at a Manhattan school, a placement facilitated by NYU’s school-based art therapy program. There she helped the students and staff process what had happened, while she began to deal with her own trauma. She remembers, "The children were spontaneously drawing the Twin Towers over and over again – and not on fire, but intact, standing strong. This made sense. We hold onto things in their whole form until we're ready to let them go." It was then she realized a community-based art project was called for, and she conceived the World Trade Center Children's Mural Project. The mural, 20' tall by 140' wide, was exhibited this past spring at the Equitable Building, across from the former site of the World Trade Center.

 

You are currently an adjunct faculty member in the Art Therapy Program, from which you also received your MA in 1996. What convinced you to pursue a career in art therapy?

 

After I did my undergraduate work at NYU, studying art education and psychology, I found myself teaching AT A public school in Coney Island. I was frustrated because I couldn't address all OF the social and emotional issues of the students in my classroom. I found, though, that students would show things in their art, really complex things that they would have had a hard time talking about. I saw how powerfully they expressed thought and feelings through images and I chose to pursue a career in art therapy.

 

The Children's Mural Project is a collection of self portraits of children. What were some of the therapeutic objectives of the project?

 

While the project was conceived at the public school where I was working, I wanted the project to give children all over the city an opportunity to be pro-active, which can –  a lot of times – alleviate trauma. Also, there was a lot of anti-Arab sentiment emerging after 9/11, so I wanted to remind kids how we were a community that needed to stick together. In fact, I chose self portraits because I saw how important it was to celebrate cultural diversity in New York, while validating children's sense of self. So I put together guidelines for children from 4 to 22. I mailed the guidelines to schools, and walked around my Brooklyn neighborhood handing out flyers.

 

What was the response?

 

It was overwhelming. The guidelines spread throughout the city, then people in other cities found out. Then America Online featured the initiative, at which point 15 states became involved. This led to the Christian Children's Fund – which is an international war and trauma response organization –  translating the guidelines into 12 different languages, which resulted in responses from 22 different countries. Very quickly we had 3100 self-portraits from all over the world from which we created the mural.

 

How did NYU prepare you for the work you're doing today?

 

The master's degree program in art therapy is phenomenal. My internships put me in inner-city settings and really prepared me for the profession. I had great supervisors for some extraordinary placements at St. Luke's Hospital and the Fordham Day Treatment Program. Places like that really helped me translate theory into practice. And, along with my undergraduate degree, I received an MSW in 2002 from NYU's School of Social Work, which further solidified my credentials.

 

What's next for you?

 

At the moment I'm working at two schools in Chinatown with children and families directly affected by 9/1l. School District 2 recently acknowledged the real potential of art therapy to address the needs of traumatized students. This is the first time a public school system in New York State is officially sponsoring an art therapy program. In the future I hope to reach even more children so I can expose them to art and its abilities to be powerful, as well as healing.