Critical Pedagogy in the Arts Therapies organizes educators of the creative arts therapies around critical theory. This convening aims to transform the creative arts therapies into fields that address inequality and oppression. The 2nd conference, co-chaired by Dr. Nisha Sajnani, a drama therapist, and Yasmine Awais, an art therapist, took place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and brought together a core “think tank” of educators and more than 100 professionals and students.
Akash Bhatia, a music therapist at ITA, was invited to co-facilitate a workshop, “Bringing a Critical Lens to Arts Therapies Education.” The five facilitators of this workshop asked attendees to take a closer look at the learning process in the arts therapies, to recognize whose perspectives are centered in the learning experience, and to leave with the goal of re-centering education to include historically marginalized voices. Awais contrasted the experience of working with mostly people of color as a therapist of color in the US and Saudi Arabia with the shift to working with predominantly white students when she joined the creative arts therapy faculty at an American university. She advised workshop attendees to create an inclusive syllabus that can be adapted to students’ variable needs and learning styles and cited Sara Ahmed and Eve Tuck as scholars that inspired this action. Jason Butler, a drama therapist and educator from Boston, recommended that educators provide a transparent pedagogical statement in their syllabi and encourage students to critique, not just learn, theories that will later inform their practice.
Leah Ra’Chel Gipson, an art therapist and educator from Chicago, noted little difference between being a student in her program’s Cultural Dimensions in Art Therapy course and being the instructor of the same course after joining the faculty: students of color often carry a burden to educate their white peers (and even instructors). Gipson’s discussion resonated with students and new professionals participating in a breakout group facilitated by Bhatia, a new professional himself. Bhatia and others in his breakout group discussed how training programs should go beyond providing multicultural perspectives courses and “safe spaces,” which often focus on educating white students on working with clients of color. Programs should also focus on supporting students of color, who may be struggling to bring their lived experiences into a classroom dominated with white, Western theories and perspectives and who may be seeking non-Western perspectives to broaden their clinical skills.
Refiloe Lepere, a drama therapist and educator from Johannesburg, South Africa, illuminated the paradox of educational institutions attempting to decolonize learning, particularly in settler-colonial states such as South Africa and the United States. She pointed out the irony of hosting this conference at the Met, which is both a real and metaphorical example of colonization, as the museum “curates” indigenous peoples’ items into “objects” on top of pedestals and behind glass cases. This was later addressed by co-chairs Sajnani and Awais, who charged attendees to find and photograph art in the museum that not only resonated with individuals but illuminated the lasting implications of Western imperialism. Lepere’s discussion challenged attendees to think about how creative arts therapy can ethically include non-Western theories and practices without risking further colonization, appropriation, or “curation” of indigenous cultures.
ITA’s mission calls not only for providing high-quality creative arts therapy services to individuals and communities in the Chicago area but also for holding our training of students and professionals to a high standard. This standard can include developing a creative art therapist’s social responsibility and re-centering creative arts therapy training to address oppression and inequality. ITA’s own conference, which recently focused on diversity and inclusion, is a step forward in transforming out field into one that is responsible, aware, and compassionate when we practice.