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Arts As Healing classes offer respite as cancer patients become ‘lost in what they’re creating'

In addition to being a cancer survivor, Kathy McGee (at left) is also now an artist. Her creative growth is the result of her longtime participation in Arts As Healing classes. Vicki Friedman (at right) is the organization’s executive director.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Kathy McGee had just recently completed her cancer treatments when she visited Arts As Healing for the first time. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was getting into or how to prepare, but her daughter had encouraged her to give this new opportunity a try. So McGee grabbed the adult coloring book she’d been enjoying lately and headed to class.

“I show up with [the] book in hand, and the class had absolutely nothing to do with that – absolutely nothing,” McGee said on St. Louis on the Air. “But I was greeted by Vicki [Friedman], and I was immediately pulled in because of her warm smile, because of the affection that she had for all of us.”

More than three years later, McGee’s cancer is in remission, and she continues to participate in the therapeutic art classes that Arts As Healing offers to cancer patients and others living with chronic illness.

She and Friedman, who is the organization’s executive director, joined host Don Marsh on Monday to discuss the impact they’ve observed and experienced through those in-depth creative efforts.

For McGee, diving into art in a collaborative and supportive setting helped take her mind off of difficult realities – and also provided mental space to grow creatively. She’d never before had artistic aspirations, but that began to change.

“You then start to focus on different colors and shapes and hues and so on and so forth,” she said, “and you forget what your problems are … it’s just a very positive experience all around for me.”

Friedman noted that patients begin participating at many different stages of life and treatment.

“Maybe they’ve just been diagnosed with [cancer] or another illness, and they’re first timers coming in,” Friedman said. “So we have that situation. We [also] have people that are years out … we have some people that bring their caregivers with them because they need assistance.”

Whatever the case may be, she added, they arrive to find an environment that provides respite as well as opportunities for growth and learning – all of it in collaboration with established local artists who volunteer their time.

“People sometimes come into class saying that they really don’t feel well today – they’re going to stay just a little bit,” Friedman said. “And my response always is, of course, ‘That’s great. Why don’t you just come sit down?’ I put a few supplies in front of them … and little by little, they kind of venture toward it. And then usually, within the hour, they are lost in what they’re creating. And then two and a half hours pass, and it’s time to clean up.”

She emphasized that it’s “not just doing arts and crafts.”

“We’re not just gonna take up a tiny bit of your time and then you’re gone,” Friedman explained. “You’ll learn from this, you will grow from this, and you will be inspired by this.”

Participants learn about mixing color early on, creating “a beautiful beginning to painting,” she added.

The resulting artwork will be in the spotlight on Saturday at the Duane Reed Gallery during the Arts As Healing Gala VII – and the larger, collaborative pieces will be available for purchase.

Related Event
What: Arts As Healing Gala VII
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday, July 14, 2018
Where: Duane Reed Gallery (4729 McPherson Ave., St. Louis, MO 63108)

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer, Evie Hemphill and Caitlin Lally give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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