The Art Experience in Pontiac offers community opportunities to explore, create and heal

The Art Experience is a nonprofit community art and art therapy studio located Pontiac, MI. Our organization was formed in 1996 by art therapists and artists from Wayne State University's art therapy program. I became involved at our studio as an intern after college, and have worn many hats here through the years, from tech support, to bookkeeping to my current role as executive director. 

Because we don't hear a lot about it, art therapy is something many people don’t quite understand. Like music and other creative outlets, interacting with art helps to lower stress hormone levels and create new neural pathways in the brain. Science shows that stress is directly linked to mental and physical illness, so by participating in things like painting, coloring, and other artistic activities, you're actually creating a healthier you by reconnecting mind, body, and spirit. Our therapists are trained to use traditional psychology in concert with art materials, practices and techniques to promote mental health and well-being in our participants.

For example, our Artists in Residence program nurtures devoted artists with physical and mental health challenges, helping them grow their craft under the guidance of artist mentors and art therapists. Many individuals have found a sense of community in our studio they may not have found elsewhere due to our specially trained staff and techniques. 

Our Open Studio community program welcomes the public to experience a range of art activities while accessing all of our art supplies and materials for only a five dollar fee. We have staff on hand to help you determine what you want your project to be, what materials you’ll need and to give helpful tips and pointers. We also host Art Parties, that follow a particular theme and have guests using various materials from macrame to actual art projects made with moss! All of our program participants have the option of selling their artwork on our website.

Since the pandemic, we’ve had to make a few changes to accommodate the health and safety of both the public and our staff. Although this has been challenging, we've managed to continue providing the community with a facility that cares about the well-being of its members. To reach communities virtually, we implemented a free online art fair that's seen people logging in from all over the world. We've never experienced participation with our programs on that scale before, and so unexpectedly, the pandemic has helped us reach a larger audience.

That being said, I believe our organization is a vital part of our local community. Since the pandemic, so many people have experienced loss, grief, and trauma and the use of art therapy can bring comfort and healing. I believe our organization provides a very accessible way for our community as a whole to work toward mental health and overall well-being.

On Sept. 15, we are co-hosting a free healing art workshop at our studio with our newer partners, Centro Multicultural La Familia (CMLF). CMLF is a local organization that provides families culturally-competent support systems to improve their quality of life, such as substance and mental abuse counseling, parenting workshops, translators, citizenship classes and more. This upcoming workshop invites survivors of domestic and sexual abuse to explore the ways art can help nurture healing and recovery from traumatic experiences. 

Our organization hopes to continue finding opportunities to reach more of our community with the health and healing aspects of art. As we navigate our current operational challenges, one of our big concerns is staffing. We are limited with our training time, and finding it hard to maintain a staff large enough to complete daily tasks, mentoring, classes and events.

We're also facing difficulties with our funding. Last year there were a few different grants we were eligible for, which helped sustain us up to this point. We hoped things would be back to normal by now, but since they aren't, we're having to look at how we can raise additional support for our organization. This may include more fundraising events and new options to our membership program.

I believe our organization will overcome these obstacles just as we have many others since being established 25 years ago. As we continue finding new ways to share our programs with our community, I'm optimistic for the future of The Art Experience.

Audra Pieknik is the executive director of The Art Experience in Pontiac, a community art and art therapy studio. Stay tuned for her next entry in our Nonprofit Journal Project, an initiative inviting nonprofit leaders across Metro Detroit to contribute their thoughts via journal entries on how major social disruptors today are affecting their work--and how they are responding. This series is made possible with the generous support of our partners, the Michigan Nonprofit Association and Co.ACT.