First Fridays Artswalk features families' art at The Christian Center


Photo Gallery | The Family Art Therapy Project at The Christian Center

PITTSFIELD — Imagine your family as a group of animals.

Describe what they, and their surroundings, would look like.

Participants of The Family Art Therapy Project, a new free community program offered at The Christian Center, were asked to bring this idea to life by painting a box diorama as a backdrop for the miniature animal figurines they'd choose to "live" there.

Friends Adia Bourassa, 9, and Jocelyn Phelps, 8, both of Adams, created a savannah grassland where their combined families could roam together.

Phelps' mother, Jessica Case, smiled at the scene and said, "In what other family would tigers and giraffes get along with each other?"

Community members can get a chance to learn more about the art work, the members and the mission of The Family Art Therapy Project, during the program's Family Art Show & Silent Auction, to be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Friday at The Whitney Center for the Arts. The Silent Auction features family-themed paintings by artists Ellen Joffe-Halpern, Claudia Shuster, Sally Tiska Rice and Scott Harrington.

The Family Art Show is also one of a few youth- and family-focused exhibits that will be on display tonight and throughout the month of May, as part of the First Fridays Artswalk exhibition event in downtown Pittsfield.

Back in the fall, local teaching artist and art therapist Marney Schorr met with Christian Center Director Ellen Merritt, to create ways to partner the arts community with the children, families and other individuals in the community, who could benefit from having time to be creative and connect with others.

The Family Art Therapy Project was launched in January, with support from the Pittsfield Cultural Council, offering free six-week sessions of interactive expressive arts activities for any interested families.

Meetings are held once a week, during the after-school hours of 4 to 6 p.m., and each week offers a different theme project, from the animal families, to mural projects, and collaborative mandalas, based on a curriculum and discussion points Schorr has developed.

No art experience is necessary; participants need only to be willing to bring their life experiences to the art table.

"This program is about expressing yourself through art, by painting your feelings and using symbolism," Schorr said.

She said that Merritt and her staff explained to her how family members in the community often come in with various stresses: the trials and errors of being kids or caregivers; issues with work and/or school; hunger, homelessness or other matters.

Each week, families are introduced to a style of art project, but instead of formal instruction, they're just given Schorr's encouragement to experiment with art supplies and discover how they might bring their thoughts, ideas and hopes to life. Each gathering starts and ends with a talk in a circle, so that participants can share what they're thinking or going through, and then share the projects they end up with.

Cheryl Bassett and her 9-year-old daughter, Trinity, in a recent session created a neighborhood mural, inspired by the historic Rice Silk Mill building in which they live. Later that session, they also shared dioramas, and described desires for their animal families to break free from the mundane and enjoy being in nature and eating good food together.

Adia Bourassa said she's "a really big fan of art" and thinks the projects are "cool." She also said that art, "calms me down," whether she's had a rough day at school or is frustrated with a sibling.

The girl's mother, Jessica Bourassa, said she enjoys getting to spend quality time with Adia, and her son Noah, 12, and daughter Clara Bourassa-Miller, 5, noting that art's accessible at any age.

"It's also a nice alternative to therapy," she said. "Here, there's no set plan and everyone is just going with the flow."

During a session last month, Adia spent time with girls her age, while Noah could work independently on a panel and Clara sat on her lap and learned how to glue figurines into place.

"It's such a beautiful experience," said Jessica Case, who brought her children, ages 11 months to 8 years, and their friends, to the March and April sessions.

They've ended up with family portraits and mandalas and collages, among other works, all of which were created in a personal experience to them.

"It's great because you get to do art together and get to learn more about each other and learn how creative you really are," she said.

Contact Jenn Smith at 413-496-6239.

First Fridays Artswalk: Youth & Family exhibits

Free public receptions will be held from 5-8 tonight in Pittsfield for the following:

Family Art Show & Silent Auction

A showcase of The Family Art Therapy Project.

The Whitney Center for the Arts, 42 Wendell Ave.

Proceeds from the auction benefit The Christian Center

Info: or

Berkshire United Way's Youth Expo: "Nine Months From Now the Only Thing I Expect to be is More ..."

An art exhibit by local high schoolers designed to raise awareness about teen pregnancy.

The Colt Gallery at The Whitney Center for the Arts, 42 Wendell Ave.


Art in Our Schools

An annual showcase of art by students in grades 6-12 of Pittsfield Public Schools and Hillcrest Educational Centers.

Lichtenstein Center for the Arts, 28 Renne Ave.


For more information, visit


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