Renowned artist brings unique recovery help to St. John

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 13, 2013

By Kimberly Hopson

LAPLACE – St. John the Baptist Parish families got a special chance to create meaningful art on Saturday at East St. John Elementary School during a free community art-making event hosted by the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts.
The event was sponsored by the St. John Parish United Way and the Brees Dream Foundation. Children and adults of all ages were encouraged to explore their creative sides in a soothing environment. Artists from the Louisiana Art Therapy Association were on hand to guide participants through the process of creating individual works of art to take home. All of the necessary materials were provided.
All participants had the option to create their own hope journals or contribute to a wish flag, a community art piece inspired by Tibetan prayer flags. All participants who chose the journal project were given a package of Crayola color pencils and a sharpener so they could continue creating at home.
“They did their hope journals, which was more individual. It was about getting them to express themselves and also having a project that they could take away and continue the work at home. It’s also a good jumping-off point for them to talk to their families about feelings they’re having in a way that’s not like ‘Tell me how you’re feeling.’ It’s a less intimidating way to do that,” said Holly Wherry, president of the Louisiana Art Therapy Association.
The GRFA believes the lack of art education in public schools has a significant effect on student test scores, attendance, motivation, graduation rates and disciplinary problems. The mission of the foundation is to engage students and educators, and to encourage arts-intergrated curriculums in schools. The foundation has a number of programs that donate art supplies, funding for art supplies or college scholarships for students around the state, such as George’s Art Closet.
“We give scholarships to high school students, about $50,000 a year. We give a year’s worth of art supplies to schools across the state — we’ve done about 120 schools in the past year, a total of about $200,000 worth of art supplies. We also have an art therapy program where we assist citizens of parishes affected by natural disaster. So for St. John parish, every school has received a year’s worth of art supplies,” said Marney Robinson, director of education for GRFA.
Robinson said she witnessed the importance of art education during her time working in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
“During my work at (the New Orleans Museum of Art), we started doing art therapy in public schools with kids, and you really get to see how well kids can vocalize their thoughts on paper in ways that they can’t through words,” she said. “They don’t have those skills yet, but they feel free to share it through drawing. That’s why it was important to us after Hurricane Isaac to come to St. John and also Plaquemines and lower Jefferson parishes,” she said. Art education is really my passion, so it’s exciting to work with kids, and i love working with families.”
For more information about the GFRA and its programs, visit the George Rodrigue Office and Education Center at 747 Magazine St. in New Orleans or the website at