Institute Graduate Ann Davis (row 3 center, glasses) with institute student interns Gloria W. and Judith D. hosting a support group of Monarch School Parents. Typical of Ann, you’ll often find her in the center getting things done, but not in the spotlight.
Institute Graduate Ann Davis came to us from the Hawaiian Islands, bringing a deep interest in education and community organization, and a serious need for play in the arts.
When Ann came from Hawaii to the mainland, she missed the sense of family “ohana” and community, “the spirit of aloha.” So it is fitting that she found her way to our beautiful community, and expressive arts family. Ann’s story, told in her own words, finds her following her heart, and an unexpected path into a dream job:
I was referred to the Expressive Arts Institute by way of Institute Graduate Tish Sjoberg. After a series of tumultuous life events, a friend recommended I check out Tish’s studio.There in the safe container of the studio, art became my healer and opened a portal to my soul I was previously unaware existed. Art saved my life. I knew I wanted to share with others the profound healing capacity of the arts, and so, with Tish’s encouragement I contacted Dr. Essex at the Expressive Arts Institute.
Going back to school was never my plan, and yet, in September 2014, after taking the required introductory class, and only a couple of months after contacting Judith, I became a graduate student at age 45. In the past, I endured many educational wounds. I often actively avoided learning spaces as they were reminiscent of deep, dark places of shame. But, as soon as I stepped foot into the Institute, I knew I had returned home. And, in time, those wounds began to heal.
An art project naming self care attributes gives an affirming reminder of what is needed to maintain life balance
Graduation from the Institute requires 600 internship hours where a student can begin to put the skills they are learning into practice. My internship took place at Monarch School, a public K-12 school for students impacted by homelessness. I feel incredibly fortunate that my internship became a paid position and I am now a full time employee with the school. My supervisor, Rachelle Archer, is a fellow Institute alumnae. She was, and remains, a phenomenal teacher and leader. I am privileged to have been under her tutelage and now honored to work by her side.
One of the most important lessons Rachelle taught me was that healingwork does not have to be heavy to be serious. There are profound benefits to humor and play. Somewhere in 4th or 5th grade we get the silliness beaten out of us. Kids are no longer allowed to be kids, and when a child is not honored for their unique individuality, educational woundings can lead to risky behaviors later in life. Not being seen or heard for who you are can be a life sentence of shame. This is especially true for our students who live in chronic stress and most who carry the wounds of developmental trauma.
During her master’s thesis, Ann focused strongly on empowerment through play, ritual and elevating a sense of belonging and community in the students she worked with. She continues to inspire in her permanent position at the Monarch School, where she brings a sense of safety and community to her students. Ann has also found the team experience, working in a community of Expressive Arts Professionals to be empowering and inspiring.
When I entered the program I never considered myself a healer, or even an artist. I just knew I needed more art in my life and that I wanted to share the profound healing benefits of the arts with others. Fast forward five years and I know deep down in my bones that I am exactly where I am supposed to be at Monarch. I learned many lessons during my tenure at the Expressive Arts Institute, but one of the most important is that I am a lifelong learner. As such I am continuing my education with Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing Training Institute, where I can deepen my understanding of the impacts of trauma on the body and how to begin to heal from its debilitating effects. With this education I am not only complimenting my skills as an expressive art practitioner, but I am also carving out a unique place for myself at Monarch School as the trauma expert on campus.
Ann (in polka-dots) with her students: When you work in the arts to help, it’s all about the love
I consider it an honor to show up every day for my students and engage them in interactions where they feel seen, heard and can experience their worthiness. I consider it a gift to give my students what was sorely missing from my life at their age. My students teach me every single day to be a better human. That at the end of the day what matters most for our youth are loving, nurturing relationships that support them in growing into their fullest potential because they hold our collective future in their hands.
One definition of a “Dream Job” might be the one where you utilize your full creative potential to help those in great need, even as you continue to heal and grow yourself. In that case Ann, we’d have to say you nailed it.
-Wes Chester, MA CAGS
Looking for your own “Dream Job” as an Arts Based Helper? See our events calendar for an upcoming intro class and begin your journey.