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Art Therapy Program Brings Creative Self-Discovery to the Rubin Museum

An art therapy student works with a child at the Rubin Museum.

This fall, Steinhardt’s graduate Art Therapy program offered a free weekly program, Healing Through Art, to visitors at the Rubin Museum.

Every Saturday afternoon, interested visitors worked with Art Therapy graduate students to complete creative projects and exercises designed to complement the themes of Death is Not the End, the Rubin Museum’s cross-cultural exhibition on the afterlife from Tibetan Buddhist and Christian perspectives. The exhibition, in tandem with the art therapy programming, gave visitors a chance to “reflect on ideas of transition, impermanence, and the unknown.”

Two people sit at a desk in the Rubin Museum and look at a piece of artwork together.

Photos by Filip Wolak, Courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art

NYU’s graduate Art Therapy program is committed to community engagement and meeting the need for accessible, culturally-attuned therapeutic intervention. For graduate students in the program, Healing Through Art was one internship opportunity among many that will prepare them for clinical work after graduation. Led by NYU professor Rohita Kilachand, art therapy students designed a variety of prompts that encouraged visitors to create, contemplate, and interpret their own works of art inspired by the Rubin Museum’s collection. 

“In one exercise, we asked students to fold a piece of paper into sections, and then illustrate a door—the exterior showing what you revealed to the world, and the inside representing what you keep hidden,” said Alexa Finkelstein, a first-year Art Therapy student. 

The Rubin Museum waived admissions fees during the program to promote access and engagement, ensuring that all community members and visitors could benefit from the art therapy. Some visitors came specifically to participate in the art therapy exercises, while others stopped by as a part of their visit to the museum.

“Everyone was welcome,” said Finkelstein. “It was great to work with such a wide variety of people. We had tourists and people visiting from different countries—and probably a few people who didn’t plan on doing art therapy when they walked in that day.”

NYU Art Therapy Program Director Marygrace Berberian noted that the event was always well-attended. “We had to organize shifts to manage the flow of participants. It was so popular we had to double our number of tables, and moved from our original location on the second floor into the main lobby space,” said Berberian.

The success of Healing Through Art sets an important precedent: it demonstrates how cultural institutions in the city can partner effectively with arts-based wellness groups to provide dynamic interactive experiences and new services to the public. 

“The program was a wonderful opportunity for visitors to stop, pause, and reflect, and honor what their bodies needed to communicate,” said Berberian. “It was thrilling to see how people were willing to be vulnerable and expressive, even in a single session, and use art therapy in a new setting to open a door into themselves.” 

Healing Through Art was the final event in a continued partnership between the Rubin Museum and NYU’s Art Therapy program. In 2012, the Rubin Museum invited first-year Art Therapy students to a Mandala Workshop, where students learned about the mandala’s importance in Buddhist philosophy and meditation. The Rubin Museum will be closing in October of 2024.

The Program Coordinators for the Healing Through Art program are Rohita Kilachand, Ikuko Acosta, and Marygrace Berberian.

Photos by Filip Wolak, Courtesy of the Rubin Museum of Art

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