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Healing Through Art: Real Art Ways Exhibition Features Art Therapy Projects by UHart Professor and Alumni

Posted 07/29/2014
Posted by Meagan Fazio

Alyssa Nett and Steven Carrasquillo in 2012

Life’s important lessons can happen outside of the classroom. That’s what Alyssa Nett ’12 discovered after enrolling in the University of Hartford’s Hartford Art School as a painting major. A summer internship completing art projects with a young hospice patient taught her she could combine her love of art with her desire to help people. Nett is now pursing a career in psychology with the goal of researching the effects of art therapy.

Nett is one of five alumnae who were mentored by Cat Balco, assistant professor of painting, while they were students in the Hartford Art School. Balco selected the women to be part of The Ellipses Project Internship Program, which is the focus of an exhibition at Real Art Ways in Hartford through August 8. The program provided training, support, and funding for students to work with hospice patients at Masonicare Partners Home Health and Hospice in the summer of 2012. The interns got professional experience and the patients had the chance to tell their stories through art and to use their creativity to cope with their feelings about death.

“You can push negative thoughts from your mind when you are making art,” explains Nett. “I loved sharing that with patients who were looking for meaning. There’s no better time for self-awareness, to put those things out of your mind, and enjoy the present moment [than when you are sick].”

Although Nett helped a few elderly patients, she primarily worked with Steven Carrasquillo, who was 17 at the time. He was in Masonicare’s Pediatric Palliative Care Program for kids under the age of 18 with life-threatening illnesses. Nett and Steven spent eight hours a week drawing super heroes and inspirational messages to hang on his bedroom wall.

(L-R)Assistant Professor Cat Balco, Catherine Johnson, Allie Corriveau, Sara Adams, Kim Zebrowski, and Alyssa Nett

Art work like Steven’s is on display in the Real Art Ways exhibition, along with a video starring Nett and the other Ellipses Project interns: Sara Adams ’13, Allie Corriveau ‘13, Catherine Johnson ’12, and Kim Zabrowski ’14. The video, directed by artist Jeff Ostergren, includes excerpts from the students’ video diaries recorded during their internships. A mural designed by Balco is also featured in the exhibition.

Balco working on her mural

“I’ve been interested in the way art can help us evolve personally, culturally, and spiritually,” says Balco. “The art shows traces of things people learn from deep within themselves. I think of it as work that is meant to dig into a deeper awareness or consciousness when people are confronting the end of their lives or the lives of people they love.”

For Corriveau, who majored in psychology and minored in ceramics during her time at the University, The Ellipses Project was the perfect chance to live her dream of working as an art therapist before she graduated. Corriveau is currently working on her master’s in art therapy and believes the internship gave her graduate school application an edge.

“I couldn't have asked for a more perfect situation,” says Corriveau. “Professor Balco was so motivated and enthusiastic. She is so supportive. She still stays in touch with me even though the internship ended two years ago.”

The Ellipses Project was funded in part through a grant from the University’s Women’s Education and Leadership Fund (WELFund). WELFund is a legacy of Hartford College for Women (HCW), where students had opportunities to work closely with faculty mentors. WELFund continues the HCW legacy by sponsoring faculty/student partnership projects (research or creative). To learn more about WELFund grants and other research/projects funded to date, please visit the WELFund website.