3 Ways Art Promotes Inclusivity

Part of the core principles of the expressive arts philosophy is to meet you where you’re at. In the clinical setting, an important part of attunement: “a felt embodied experience that can be individualistic as well as communal, that includes a psychological, emotional, and somatic state of consciousness” (Kossak, 2009). This means that, as someone who facilitates an experience or stewards a connection with another, you would offer someone the space to be seen and the time to be heard, just as they are.

Meeting someone where they are requires us to be plainly and profoundly connected to another, without any bias. It is to cultivate inclusivity in an environment by transcending differences and arriving at common threads that bind us together as a human society. From bringing understanding to sometimes misunderstood circumstances of individuals with special needs, to bridging cultures through a universal language of creativity and community, inclusivity cuts across a wide range of the needs of our society today.

Could inclusivity be a principle that applies to more situations than just an expressive arts experience? Here are a few ways the arts is facilitating attunement among individuals and within communities.

Art bridges cultures.

Click through to read more about this photo: Cartwheel Foundation on Facebook

Visual, tactile, and experiential language can bridge culture in ways that go beyond verbal communication. Arguably, this is because such language runs deep in the way we live. With Cartwheel Foundation, the arts bridges two different cultures and allow each one to be enriched by the other.

“Art can be found everywhere,” says Charissa Lopez, Program Officer for Education at Cartwheel. “Every time I visit our partner IP communities it enables me to experience their rich culture and tradition through their unique life ways.” Life ways is a profound way to see and define culture.

Administrative Officer and member of the Talaandig community, Berose Tacal, supports the importance of the arts to understand different ways that people live: “Nang dahil sa art, lumalalim ang pag-intindi mo. Nakikita mong may sariling pinanggalingan individually ang art. Nang dahil doon, lumalabas ang kultura, ang kwento ng tao.” (“Through art, understanding deepens. You begin to see where others come from, uniquely. Because of that, culture emerges: the story of the people.”)

Former Education Coordinator and member of the Talaandig community, Bricks Sintaon, also shares the impact in the educational setting: “Nakakatulong ang workshops sa art sa pagturo ng pagiging open at appreciative. Na-lessen ang judgement. Na-process na ganito ang pananaw para tingnan ang ibang kultura, nagiging madali gawin ito. Nagkaroon ng chance para mag-merge sa ibang community.” (“Arts-based workshops help by teaching us how to be open and appreciative. There is less judgement. When we have such a perspective when it comes to other cultures, it becomes easier to learn about them, and the opportunity arises to integrate into communities.”) 

The core of Cartwheel’s developmental work is in thoughtfully and respectfully integrating support and offering opportunities for empowerment in indigenous culture, to help its members be more self-sustaining, gain access to equitable resources, and most of all, be empowered as a people. The arts helps in this process through cultivating connection on a deeper level, and tapping an innate creativity that builds upon differences and new learnings; that is inclusive. As Lopez says: “Through their life ways, art is naturally born within [indigenous peoples]. Art creates a bridge between IP and non-IP, through sharing of their stories, cultures and traditions.” 

Art can be an accessible vehicle for discussing important issues.

Click through to read more about this photo: MAGIS Creative Spaces on Facebook

Get Wired! at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde ran for the second time last July. Spearheaded by the Arts and Culture Cluster, the two-week program brings together the college’s members and network to open discussions around a common theme: art and healing.

“[It] has been my personal research interest for the last ten years,” says Project Head Ange Viceral, “and has magically manifested in the last two years of leading the Get Wired! Projects.” Get Wired! practices interdisciplinary and participatory approaches of the arts. As its name suggests, the activities and talks “help people ‘get more wired’ to themselves by connecting to other people in the workshops,” Viceral describes. “The expertise of the invited guests in the roundtable connected the people and stakeholders in Benilde towards one goal of helping out our students and associates in their mental wellness through the arts and a holistic view of the body through the self, soul and the other.”

The first of Get Wired!’s two events tested the waters by starting conversations about the landscape of therapy practice in Metro Manila, as well as exploring the emerging field of neuroaesthetics. Motivated by positive response, this year’s focus was deepening the discussion around neuroaesthetics. People wanted to understand how the brain worked, to understand how healing can happen. Viceral had different groups of students produce aesthetic responses to her own personal brain map — an assessment done by Mindworks Center for Mind Health that measures brain activity through EEG technology. Students responded to a recording of the music produced as feedback for the brain during the session. 

Click through to read more about this photo: MAGIS Creative Spaces on Facebook

As participants in both years’ events, the team at MAGIS has seen how art can be an accessible vehicle for people to discuss important issues. Witnessing the art of a brain map being interpreted through movement, textiles, and visual art was a discussion in itself.

Discussing themes that run common threads through individuals is a valuable step in becoming better attuned to each other. “I think people had the same fascination and curiosity to this topic continuing the neuroaesthetics perspective and now integrating it into a more local context,” Viceral explained. “The performative installation we did as a collaboration with the students and faculty of Benilde, together with the experienced panel in the roundtable discussion, gave a very meaningful flavor to this year’s Get Wired! 2 and contextualized the context of Ginhawa as a Filipino aesthetic of the body. People still wanted more. I think that we are all in the right path.”

Art can start conversations.

Click through to read more about this photo: FAM Mnl on Facebook

Conversations and meaningful discussion are not exclusive to organized roundtable discussions. FAM Mnl thought about how everyday objects in our day to day routine can start the conversation, too.

“We chose everyday items because it can serve as friendly reminders to our buyers and also conversation starters to those around them,” says Jill Santos, Co-Owner at FAM Mnl. Their first collection, the Semicolon collection, includes apparel, and accessories like waterproof stickers, water bottles, and notebooks. “We believe that with our products more and more people can start conversations on mental health.”

Jill is part of a team of Clinical Psychology graduate students who were inspired to start FAM Mnl as they were exposed to environments where stigma about mental health is evident. “We interact with individuals who express that their feelings aren’t understood or how their voices aren’t heard. We also noticed the increase of individuals who experience mental health problems,” explains Jill. 

The objects all around us tell stories about us, and can help us tell stories as well. Jill paints the picture: “With just one question of ‘What does the Semicolon on your shirt mean?’ They are given the opportunity to share their knowledge and stories through powerful narratives.”

To say our narratives are powerful could be an understatement. When we begin to relate to stories–feeling the emotions, growing a connection with the characters whether or not we know them–we are building the foundations of empathy. Paul Zak puts it well: stories bring brains together. We form connections and relationships through empathy, and human connection is the first step in growing into better, more inclusive societies that are safe spaces for all kinds of stories, especially the ones that need to be heard.

Do you know of or have a project that gives the arts the chance to promote inclusivity? Tell us your story. 

MAGIS designs experiences and gatherings that bring people together through the arts. This November, join us in Expressive Arts Philippines Network’s conference for 2019 – Duyan: cradling diversity through intersections of art and healing. EXA Philippines is a network of practitioners from a diverse range of fields, with the common advocacy in growing the practice of the expressive arts for social impact.

Seeing Social Work in the Philippines through a Psychosocial Lens: MAGIS at NASWEI book launch

We commemorated Human Rights Day this year with the National Association for Social Work Education, Inc. (Philippines), at their book launch of The Human Costs of the Philippine War on Drugs: a collection of case studies that poignantly capture the landscape in which social workers all over the country currently focus on.

We were in the company of professionals who have dedicated their careers and lives to the incredible and unique calling of Social Work. This professional field is all too familiar with contexts with profound needs for human dignity: conflict zones, disaster areas, national borders, and communities of poverty. To have a heart in these margins and knots in society is both a tall order and a natural inclination of the human spirit. As keynote speaker Evelyn Balais-Serrano said, “we have common humanity.”

As the field of Social Work goes through a paradigm shift from dealing with welfare, to involving themselves with the all-encompassing and currently controversial landscape of human rights, we are also significantly moved by the need for further deepening of resilience and strength in body, mind, and spirit.

We sincerely thank everyone we met yesterday and for the stories that were shared. We look forward to sharing in the journey of, and helping how these brave helping professionals help themselves and help each other.

1: Keynote Speaker Evelyn Balais-Serrano
2: NASWEI VP – NCR and Executive Director, Dr. Elsa H. Ruiz; with MAGIS Managing Director Kathy V. Ponce
3: NASWEI President, Dr Melba L. Manapol; and VP – Visayas, Ms. Rose Sequitin with MAGIS representatives Kathy (Managing Director), Miah Tanchoco (Assistant Director for Program Management), Adi Santos (Communications Officer)

A Morning with Asian Hospital and Medical Center: Fit for Good



Join us Saturday, November 18 as we share the therapeutic experience of dance and movement through a short talk and workshop with Dance Therapist Joey Atayde. Fit for Good is an initiative of the Asian Brain Institute for raising awareness about living well over the age of 50. The morning will cover a range of topics including physical and mental health and fitness, and an introduction to the Institute’s brain wellness program in context of dementia.

About the Speaker

Joey is a Registered Dance/movement Therapist with the American Dance Therapy Association.  She finished her graduate studies in Dance/Movement Therapy at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York.  She has worked with children and adults with mental illness, using movement as a form of psychotherapy and using this to integrate the body, the mind and the spirit.

7 Groups and Projects Changing the Conversation on Mental Health in the Philippines

The last decade has changed the conversation about mental health in a significant way. Here are just a few of the amazing activities happening around the country this week, and local organizations working on helping the country address mental health.

MHACTNow is the official campaign for the Philippines’ first ever Mental Health Act. The petition gathered more than 20,000 signatures, and together with the campaign, it was enough for the government to take action and spark nationwide discourse about its importance. The Bill was approved by the Senate on May 2, 2017, and is currently going through amendments for its final reading. Hopefully, this month of Mental Health Awareness will be topped off with the fantastic news of the Bill’s approval in the House of Representatives.

The Youth for Mental Health Coalition is a 1-year-old organization that has taken leaps in a short span of time. Their strong social media presence that has given Filipino youth a platform to be heard and acknowledged in context of mental health issues, and the Coalition has representatives all over the country.  They are holding the National Youth Congress on Mental Health this September 14, 2017. Check out their lineup of activities for this week as published on Facebook, as well.

MentalHealthPH is an online advocacy that, this week for Mental Health Awareness Week in the Philippines, is taking to universities to be part of talks, forums, and other events. They publish story submissions that capture a poignant snapshot of living with mental health issues, which you can find here.

Mental Health and Psychosocial Support Philippines is a professional community that provides psychosocial interventions to victims/survivors of disasters, crises, and emergencies in the Philippines. One of the head trainers and Program Director for Mental Health and Psychosocial Support at the National Center for Mental Health, Ms Thelma Singson Barrera, has activated thousands of psychosocial care providers all over the country through capacity-building in psychosocial support, and been involved with key first-response teams in some of the country’s most devastating disasters. We had a chat with her recently for Mental Health Awareness Week.

“I feel and believe that the awareness on Mental Health has improved in the past years,” she said. “More mental health programs have been established and are successfully in place… and as a post-disaster response, Mental Health and Psychosocial Support is now being recognized as important to be provided to survivors of disaster.” In her career of more than 27 years, Ms Thelma, who began as a hospital-based Mental Health and Psychiatric Nurse before moving into the fieldwork and training she does today, has encountered also the kind of response that stigmatizes the matter: “… if people know you work in a mental hospital, they will give a silly laugh and ask: ‘Don’t you get the disorder too for taking care of the mentally sick patients?’”

As seen in the conversation that transpired after Joey De Leon’s comment about depression and the consequent apology, how we as a society deal with battling stigma is crucial to support and advance mental health initiatives. Responding to lack of awareness with a sincere intention to share and help educate can bring out the lessons in difficult situations.

Self-expression can be a powerful partner for mental wellbeing – it is at the core of what we do at MAGIS as well.  It is not a surprise that there are also wonderful groups and projects that use the arts to have conversations and build an empathic community around mental health: Silakbo PH, Tala: Mental Wellness, Stellar Stranger.

Today, World Mental Health Day, we recognize and salute all the initiatives that have helped to achieve where we are right now with Mental Health. Mental Health can be a sensitive topic. It takes courage to continue the conversation in brave and empathic response to the need of understanding, awareness, and acceptance… and even more so to start it.



Featured image: A mindful prayer activity with MAGIS Creative Spaces, The Learning Child School, and Cartwheel Foundation in THRiVETrauma-informed Healing and Resilience in Vulnerable Environments; a teacher-training program conducted by MAGIS Founder and Director Gina Alfonso.

Thank you to Ms. Thelma Singson Barrera, from the National Center for Mental Health and long-time friend of MAGIS, for speaking with us this week.

Are you part of or do you know of more organizations making a difference for Mental Health in the Philippines? Let us know in the comments or contact us.

Kick off August with Super Science Saturdays

We’re super excited for these first two Saturdays of August! Find out about the world on a microscopic level, and create paths for electricity to power a lightbulb!

Contact Erika at 0917 842 4247 to reserve your slot today, or head over to register online via the Eventbrite Page.

August 5: Microscope Discovery Lab 
Go skin-deep and know what your skin cells look like or see a leaf the way ants and other insects would!

August 12: Circuit Making Lab 
Why do the lights in a house turn on when you flip a switch? How does a remote-controlled car move? Demystify electricity by getting your little engineer busy with some of our awesome hands-on projects.

Per session: P750 per parent-child pair
Both sessions: P1400 per parent-child pair
Extra parent/child: P300
Each session includes the facilitator + materials + snacks.
You’ll go home with worksheets from the first lab and circuit cards from the second.


on now