THE NEWCOMER ART THERAPY PROJECT

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ATI provides art therapy services to newcomer (refugee and immigrant) adults and children living across the Triangle Area, using the arts to circumvent language and cultural barriers and help address complex trauma, increase self-esteem, and build social support. We provide weekly individual counseling to refugee adults at the Carrboro Community Health Clinic, and we also offer monthly community-based refugee women’s groups in collaboration with the Refugee Community Partnership. Most of our work with the newcomer population is with students (K-12) in Chapel Hill/Carrboro and Durham Public Schools. We currently provide individual and group services to about 150 newcomer students each year. 

Many of the children in our newcomer program have spent their whole lives in refugee camps or other isolated or dangerous situations, and, because of this, most have had very little formal schooling. Art is a shared language that helps children communicate, build friendship skills, and address issues of acculturation. The images we have seen in these groups are a combination of cultures, landscapes, and symbols of war and peace. Art therapy is a safe way for participants to talk about their past experiences and the trauma that they may have endured. Art is also a powerful way to create images of hope for the future. 

While our original refugee program, The Burma Art Therapy Project, began in 2008 in one classroom with 13 refugee children from Burma, we have since expanded this work to 19 different schools, currently serving students from over 24 different countries. 

Through the process of art making and by sharing the images produced via community-wide art shows (with the permission and interest of our amazing clients, of course!), we firmly believe we can help build positive, lasting relationships between newcomers and host community members.

We also conduct ethical, empowering, community-based participatory research with newcomer populations in order to evaluate our programming and assess topics important to our clients.