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.

The Art of Inclusion

On July 18th, we took to the Museum Of A History Of Ideas in UP Manila to listen to a talk on expressive arts and the kind of impact it has on the Philippine society. The afternoon’s speaker and workshop facilitator, Amos Manlangit, often integrates mandala-making in his talks and workshops, asking participants to collaborate in filling the spaces of a hand-painted template. For this particular session, Amos also offered a question prompt:

What is art to you?

It was a question simple enough to be both easily accessible and a stepping stone to deeper inquiry. To answer the question, we had to illustrate or write in our chosen space in the mandala. It didn’t matter what kind of creative background we came from, for as long as we were able to reflect on the question and form an answer with which we truly resonated. The end result was a truly beautiful and meaningful piece of collaborative work.

Whether the expressions were simple or intricate, they all found their place in the mandala. And when we stepped back and saw the bigger picture (literally), we realized we were looking at a rich representation of what unity in diversity looks like what a society might look like in acceptance of differences, in celebration of diversity, and in continuous cultivation of inclusivity.

‘Inclusion’ is most commonly defined as, ‘the action or state of including, or of being included [within a group or structure].’ In addition to this classical definition, Merriam-Webster specifically defines inclusion as ‘the act or practice of including students with disabilities in regular school classes.’ While these definitions begin to reflect the societal issues about inclusivity we face all over the world today, putting it into practice is another story.

In the expressive arts practice, inclusivity takes shape in its foundational principles of art being a companion that ‘meets you where you’re at’. Art-making becomes a process that fuels outcomes indiscriminate of any skill-level or art-form In other words, you don’t have to be good at art to engage with it. Amos talks about this as well in describing creative engagement – which is a framework he developed on how an individual’s creative development can deepen no matter what point he is in his own personal development or growth.

Creative engagement and arts-based practices do not come without challenges. The discussions at the afternoon’s talk revolved around accessibility for hard-to-reach communities and institutionalizing the practice. In our own programs, we have also experienced the intricate conversations of designing the creative experience and make it more relevant to culture, context, and character.

The rewards can weigh more when creative engagement flourishes and when we are able to embrace diversity in society the same way we appreciated diversity in the creative responses to the mandala. Our community becomes richer because it. This how art-making facilitates an inclusive practice.

Photo from ASP – Santa Rosa’s Facebook page

Aside from last July 18’s event, one of the wonderful ways we’re seeing how art-making becomes an inclusive practice is through the Autism Society of the Philippines (ASP) event held last July 20. The event they held called Healing Discoveries highlighted how they are taking strides in making integrative arts accessible to the families of kids with autism. Our morning with them at this event saw how the community came together through kids yoga, pottery, and music.

In Healing Discoveries, Expressive arts practitioner and MAGIS Communications Manager, Adi Santos, created pinch pots (and more!) with families, and articulated how its creative process can be a way to strengthen our connections with each other beyond words. Shared art-making becomes a way to be present to someone who may be living differently from the way we do. Perhaps that’s all we need to start cultivating inclusivity through the arts: the intention to connect with each other more deeply, be present with another to understand them, and nurture how we see ourselves and the world around us.

How do you think you can cultivate inclusivity in your own unique, creative way?

Catch Amos Manlangit and more practitioners advocating for inclusion, at Beyond Fun: Therapeutic Arts and Play for Children with Special Needs, our upcoming Head On Talk on Arts & Inclusion, happening this August 31.

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.

Thriving Creatively: the promise of art for healing

Last month, we launched our first run of THRiVE – a psychosocial training program in expressive arts-based approaches to healing and learning in the classroom.  This program is an opportunity for us to create and hold the space for educators to rediscover and be themselves through the ageless method of and tools for expression: art and creativity.

Training educators as people

We started the 4-day intensive standing in a circle, feet hip-width apart, arms stretched out and palms open on either side of us. This moment taught me the power of a standing being. I looked around at our circle. We had come together as 33 educators, coordinators, managers, community builders; but in that moment we were 33 people who were right where they needed to be, 33 stories to be told. The gravity of this collective presence was enough to build us up, a mountain beneath our feet.

To give these individuals space in this way was very important for lead facilitator and MAGIS Director Gina Alfonso. “Each of us has the right to be here. Each of us has a place in this circle and a reason for being here now.” she said.  With so many different journeys that led to the one moment, it was crucial to establish a sense of safety and belonging at the very beginning.   At THRiVE, educators learn to improve the way they work by improving their sense of self, first.

Trauma-informed practice

MAGIS developed THRiVE – Trauma-informed Healing and Resilience-building in Vulnerable Environments – with trauma in mind. Considering it in the broadest sense of the word, the activities over the 4-day intensive addressed both shared community and personal trauma, toxic stress, and the need for resilience. Through arts-based activities, the psychology of play, and individual and communal mindfulness practice, the group learned how to improve their professional work not only by being informed by the science behind the practice of the arts for psychosocial interventions in the classroom, but also by the experience of taking care of themselves first – the same way they take such thoughtful care of the students and colleagues they work with.

One participant described the experience as a realization of the blessings despite issues and everyday challenges. Through activities designed with self-awareness and mindfulness, there was also an element of healing. “I am able to say that I am healed and free from the heavy feelings I was carrying because of my own perception, thinking, and doing,” she said.

Mind the brain

The storytelling, self-awareness, and self-care practice doesn’t end with arts-based activities. From our year-old partnership with Mindworks self-awareness for us as their technology provides a detailed portrait of our brains: brain maps.  Mindworks uses EEG technology to depict brainwave activity, which can accurately show the current state of brain, and which neurotherapists analyze to inform customized programs for improving brain function and mental agility. The brain maps alone, along with interviews about them, provide a wealth of insight into the impact of personal history on how we think, our natural inclinations, and areas we can improve. This greatly helped participants of THRiVE to understand their strengths, their needs, and how they can better work together in their chosen professions.  Most importantly, knowing their needs helped them create their own plans for a self-care practice.

Creative souls

Bambi, one of the co-facilitators of THRiVE and Assistant Director for Community Relations, said the experience for her brought her to deeper appreciation of the arts as a vehicle of self-discovery and healing. Kathy, our Managing Director and a participant of the program, described it as life-changing.  Working behind the scenes, I was moved by the creative fluidity in the program’s facilitation: it was alive, responding to emergent needs of the participants.

Whichever side of experience, we all witnessed people heal, learn, and thrive through the arts. Visual art was a self-made, embodied mirror that someone may have been introduced to for the first time. “I didn’t even know I could do this,” one participant said in surprise. The a-ha moments were resounding by the end of the program. Movement and music gave life new rhythm, whether shared or individual.  Even the thoughtful selection of symbols was a creative experience in itself, giving new meaning to everyday objects around us.

We are deeply grateful for the vibrant participation of the inspiring educators of both The Learning Child School and Cartwheel Foundation, Inc.‘s partner Indigenous communities. We have learned as much, if not more, from each of you.

We also thank our friends at Cartwheel who co-facilitated this program with us.

Were you part of this program? Tell us about your experience in the comments below!

To learn more about THRiVE, or to express interest in organizing it for a group, contact us.

Remembering Bounce

This day last month, we gathered for BOUNCE: Living the Resilient Life. It was a one-day workshop that brought together professionals of varied backgrounds to learn a little bit more about resilience, living fully, and how the expressive arts can encourage this.

Dr. Robert Wicks, travelling to Manila for the first time to be our guest, opened the morning. The perfect balance of strong and humorous, he spoke of resilience and the importance of self-care.

“… We are not in the success business, we are in faithfulness business. We need to look personally and professionally at how we can be faithful to the calling that we have to be present to others.”

The afternoon was led by Nurse Thelma Singson Barrera, leading us into further examination of the reality of stress in our everyday life and work.

Breakout workshops followed. Conducted by Cartwheel Foundation Inc., and IsraAID: The Israel Forum for International Humanitarian Aid, these workshops gave participants immersive experience in how the expressive arts is applied in psychosocial programs in the country. The room was punctuated with sounds of happy chants, reflective silence, laughter, singing, and proclamations of affirmation. The activities from both organizations focused on group interaction, which is particularly important in trust- and peace-building in a community after a traumatic event. This is characteristic of the work that both organizations do: IsraAID works with the community in post-Haiyan Ormoc, and Cartwheel works with indigenous schools in post-disaster and post-conflict areas in the Philippines.

For participants, the day was a welcome space to rest, reflect, and learn something new. Thank you to everyone we met that day, for the opportunity to speak with you and serve you. We look forward to seeing you again soon.
This event could not have happened without the incredibly generous support of our sponsors: the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office; Medichem Pharmaceuticals, Inc. the CNS division of UNILAB; Jackbilt Industries; ABJ Foundation; and Pru Life UK. We are also grateful for the following sponsors who we are honoured to have supported at Bounce as well: The Philippine Neurofeedback Center (Mindworks); National Bookstore; and Derm Factor Essentials.

A limited edition of Riding the Dragon, printed by Jesuit Communications Philippines, is available to purchase with MAGIS for P250.00. Get in touch to reserve a copy today.

If you attended BOUNCE, we would love to hear about your experience. Our feedback form can be accessed here:http://goo.gl/forms/ytJbrn8S4A