I have always relied on Art to communicate, express myself, gain insight, relax, and ultimately to self-understanding and satisfaction. There is nothing better than completing a piece of artwork I have envisioned in my head and finally seeing it transformed into a tangible visual form.
This avenue of expression was something I discovered at a very young age. My father dealt with Depression that went undiagnosed or treated until I was 13 years old. Memories of my childhood are full of anger, violence, fear, and resentment. I would come up with every excuse in the book to stay away from home, to go to a friend’s house, or help out in the classrooms after school. Coming home was like having to walk on egg shells. I had to be aware of every move I made and every word I said, so as not to make my father angry. For a little girl, this is a nightmare. I was not free to run and play in the house, to make a mess, or to have accidents. I felt that no one understood, not my friends of family. The only way I could tell my story in a safe place was with my notebook.
I wrote this poem when I was 9 years old. It went on to win Editors Choice by Poetry Magazine. It’s called, Hiding.
I want to burn the bridges
I want to forget the past
And I long to get away
From that which will never last
I long to learn
I long to see
I long to hold, dreams I believe
I long to laugh
I long to love
The only one who knows, above.
I know that I will carry
The sorrow and the strife
I know that I cannot escape
The past that is my life
My notebook was a best friend that I could trust with all my secrets. I would hide in my closet at night with a strand of Christmas lights, notebook and pen, and “escape” for hours. It was a safe place where I could be messy, make mistakes, and honestly express how I felt without judgment or punishment. Simply releasing my emotions regarding my home life was my first experience with art and creative expression.
In junior high I began having irregular heartbeats and was monitored closely by doctors. I did everything from the EKG testing, wearing a heart monitor, and many different relaxation techniques. This was a frustrating time for me because I was just beginning to get involved in competitive cheerleading, but because of my heart issues I had to sit out of many practices. I was perceived as a slacker when I couldn’t do the conditioning or extensive strength training. I was constantly out of breath and had intense pressure in my chest. I could feel my heart beating so hard like it was going to pop out of my chest. I would get dizzy and black out. I felt weak and woozy. It was so frustrating! It was keeping me from finally being a part of a team, a family. Finally doctors agreed that the best treatment for me was a Cardio Ablation. At the time, this was a very new and innovative procedure. In order to fix the communication between nodes, which sends electrically impulses that make the heart beat, the doctors had to completely stop my heart for over a minute. My mom was very scared and so was I. The day before going into surgery, I made this…
Age 13, Healing.
I am very lucky to say that the procedure at the Minneapolis Children Hospital was a success. I have had zero irregular heart rhythms. I am completely healed!
As I entered high school, my favorite classes were Art and Psychology. I know beauty queens are supposed to be perfect in every way, but I certainly am not one of those. I was not an A+ student. Because of what was going on at home, I had little motivation in the classroom. Especially math! Instead of working on word problems and equations, I was in the back doodling extravagant pictures and designs all over my notebooks. Full of teenage angst, “Doodling is a sign of genius!” I would reply to teachers who questioned scribbles. Honestly, I didn’t care much about scholastic success. I was a bit rebellious… except when I was doing art.
When I was free to create or nurture others who were hurting, I was truly happy. This is when I began to catch a small glimpse of my purpose. I began to see the need to develop leadership skills so I could take a stand with those who had lost their voice, those who were also hurting.
College was a time of growth for me. I began to start my own life, away from my parents and home, and finally saw that I could be in control of my future. I didn’t have to be controlled by my dad anymore. I took classes that broadened my view of art, psychology, and human mind, and how we communicate visually. I graduated this year from Saint Cloud State University with a Bachelors of Science in Psychology and I am taking classes for my Master degree in Marriage and Family Therapy, and Art Therapy.
College was also a very sad time for me; I lost all four of my grandparents. Art helped me reflect and remember them. I painted this portrait of my grandmother while tears streamed form my eyes and I reminisced all the lovely times I had with her.
Heavenly, Age 22
My platform was an easy choice, because it is who I am. My past, my present and my future. It is who I always wanted to be, but never knew I could be.
“Through art and the creative process, I found I could say things I could not describe, things I had no words for.” Georgia O’Keeffe
In order to “Heal Lives through Creative Expression” I have partnered with two organizations. On a local and national level, I promote and work with Free Arts. They are a non-profit organization that was founded by an Art Therapist who saw a great need for abused, neglected, and homeless children to be able to express themselves creatively, imagine, and build trusting relationships with adults. Free Arts works in teams of 4-6 adult volunteer mentors. The mentors to go sites where children are living or staying; homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters, elementary schools, community centers, Boys and Girls Clubs of America…etc. The mentors work with the children on-site making creative expression projects a few hours every week. The projects are designed to help the children deal with a particular issue they are facing. If we are in a teenage rehabilitation center where the kids have dealt with self-injury or suicide, we might make paper jewelry, an opportunity for self-expression because often their jewelry is taken away for safety reason. If we were working with girls who had eating disorders, we would do projects that aim to focus on positive traits or attributes they like about themselves.
We help the kids see that they do have people in their life who care about them and want them to heal. By utilizing art as a tool for communication, we can start building relationships and overcoming adversity through visual creation. I personally mentor every week, write curriculum, recruit corporate sponsors, and raise funds and advocate for children who are in similar or worse situations like mine.
While serving as Miss Minnesota International I brought a day of Free Arts to the city of St. Cloud for the first time expanding Free Arts reach outside of the metro areas. I started with a city and campus wide collection of used art supplies and later received sponsorship from local business. I also initiated the governor’s proclamation of a statewide “Free Arts Day” in Minnesota.
As Miss International I will be traveling to each of the Free Arts affiliates across the nation to discuss best practice, fundraising techniques, and develop healing arts curriculum.
On a global level, I also volunteer as the Healing Arts Spokesperson for ICAF, the International Child Art Foundation. ICAF is the largest children’s art organization in the world having served over 5 million children. Their mission is to employ the power of the arts for the development of creativity and empathy – key attributes of successful learners and leaders. ICAF identifies imaginative children and inspires them to embrace lifelong creativity and develop empathy – pathways to sustainability and global competitiveness. At the global level, ICAF brings together the world’s creative children, transforms them into peace leaders and ties the knot that may unfold in collaborative innovation. They have many different programs, but specifically speak about the benefits of art for children who have survived natural disaster. I have been asked to speak on the grounds of our nations capital during the World Children’s Festival, travel to Tokyo to attend the International Conference on Creativity, go to Japan to work with tsunami survivors, and to secure enough funds to bring the Art Olympiad exhibit to Minnesota for the first time (an exhibit made up of children’s artwork from across the world that represents their favorite sport in the Olympics). I am thrilled to take on these challenges!
I know from personal experience that ART HEALS! It has changed the way I see the world and my ability to express to others how I see and interpret life experiences. It has helped me build relationships and communicate to others, even people who don’t speak the same language. Art is a universal language and I will continue to bring healing into the lives of those in need of creative expression.
“I've been absolutely terrified every moment of my life - and I've never let it keep me from doing a single thing I wanted to do.” – Georgia O’Keeffe
All my Love,
Miss International 2012