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The Healing Arts: An Interview with Soma Vajpayee, Career Changer and Art Therapy Student


Soma Vajpayee, a student in NYU Steinhardt's art therapy program is a graduate of Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce in Pune, India and received an MBA at the Indian Institute of Management in Ahmedabad. She is a self-taught painter, who has had six solo exhibitions abroad.  A mother and self-described former banker, executive coach and co-founder of an ed-tech start-up, she creates art that "explores the eternal within the ephemeral through bold brush strokes and a vibrant palette." We asked her about her transition from the business world to the healing arts.

Portrait of Soma Vajpayee

Soma Vajpayee

You received a BA in commerce and an MBA and have been working in the finance industry.  How did you come to pursue that career and why -- now -- are you changing your career path? 

I started a job with Citibank, India equipped with an MBA degree from one of the top business schools in India. (I come from a humble home and one of the key drivers in determining the pathway for academics and job was to be financially independent.) I spent nearly a decade at Citibank as a part of the Learning & Development team where I worked with large sales teams and senior leaders, facilitating cultural changes and training for improved business outcomes. In that position, I learned how consumer and employee behavior could be changed with targeted interventions.

I was drawn towards business coaching after that experience, which I found useful because it helped you to engage individuals at a deeper level. After nearly a decade, I left Citibank to move to Hong Kong with my family where my “self-employed” phase began. I trained as a business coach and started consulting with clients. As their sounding board and cheerleader, I was able to help them work on their deep-seated insecurities and refine their sense of purpose to bring out the best in their lives.

I believed that combining therapy with art could increase the depth and breadth of my practice and make me a better champion for others."

Soma Vajpayee

When I moved back to India again, I became an accidental entrepreneur and spent the next eight years in managing and mentoring people as co-founder of Zaya Learning Labs.

Art has been a strong anchor in my life especially when relocating to different countries.  I started painting at the age of six, and have nurtured this passion for art over the last two decades.

In 2018, I moved to New York from Hong Kong. This relocation brought me to a crossroads in my career. I evaluated what career would expand my practice and skill set and be true to my service core. I realized then that coaching and art were my central passions. I believed that combining therapy with art could increase the depth and breadth of my practice and make me a better champion for others.

painting of a field of flowers

Wave Hill 3 (oil on canvas)

You are the co-founder of Zaya learning labs. Can you talk about this initiative and other public service initiatives you've been involved in?

Zaya uses technology to improve the quality of education in low income schools in India. We faced many challenges that any start-up would. I found that working with young colleagues energized me the most at Zaya. Hiring, on-boarding, motivating, and engaging with them taught me to be appreciative and compassionate towards their dilemmas, ambitions, and priorities. I have been involved with many CSR (corporate social responsibility) initiatives like fundraising and other educational programs. Some of the organizations that are close to my heart are Akanksha, Cancer Patients Aid Association, Sneha and Save the Children (India).

painting of a circle

Abstract 2 (poster colors)

Can you tell us about the place of art in your life? 

I am a self-taught artist and have enjoyed working with various mediums (oil on canvas, watercolor and charcoal). As an artist, I have explored my personal emotions through different stages of life, alongside journeys and relocations. Art has helped me see places and cultures meaningfully. Nature has been a major influence in my work, and I strongly believe its healing power can help us deal with many stresses. You can visit my artwork by clicking this link

I feel grateful that I pushed myself out-of-the-closet as an artist. To that end, I have exhibited my artwork in the iconic Hong Kong Visual Arts Center, as well as in Mumbai and Prague. I am a member of the Mamaroneck Artist Guild and have participated in the Hastings-on-Hudson, NY Juried Art Commission Exhibition (2019), and the USPS group art show in Pelham Art Gallery (2020). I also unveiled a new collection, Garden of Colors, a solo exhibition this past spring at the Greenburgh Town Hall in Westchester. I have been able to find patrons for my art from across the world.

Wave Hill 6 (oil on canvas)

Wave Hill 6 (oil on canvas)

What brought you to the NYU ART Therapy Program?

I had been searching for educational programs that incorporated both art and therapy, and was delighted to learn about NYU’s Art Therapy program. When I attended the information session, I knew it was the right one for me. (It's the only program I applied for this year!)

I am aware of challenges in the community around me. As an art therapist, I hope to impact lives and bring balance to families and neighborhoods. I am excited to use art therapy to address the rising stresses in the lives of different populations, especially youth. I am curious to see if digital art can be a way to draw in the creativity of today’s digitally-active generation, while imparting the same healing benefits of other art therapy mediums. I want to be the best art therapist that I can be.

Follow Soma Vajpayee on Instagram:  Art_by_soma 

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