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Hands Healing HeArts

The art of addiction recovery

By Chris Cathers

Self-portrait sculptures await installation prior to the Hands Healing HeArts exhibit in 2017 at Frankfort’s Grand Theatre.

The annual Kentucky Creative Industry Summit always promotes lively discussion on a variety of topics important to artists and arts leaders. One of the sessions at November’s summit focused on two initiatives supported by the Kentucky Arts Council that involve the arts as a healing agent in the addiction recovery process. One of those initiatives, Hands Healing HeArts, is based in Frankfort and is a cooperative effort between local artists and Franklin County Drug Court.

Chris Cathers is executive director of the Kentucky Arts Council.

Hands Healing HeArts works with Franklin County Drug Court using a variety of hands-on, multi-disciplinary artistic approaches with women in Drug Court to support their recovery. In weekly, court-mandated meetings led by Hands Healing HeArts artists, each woman is introduced to a variety of methods (writing, drama, music, sculpture and visual arts) by which she can explore her life experiences and struggles, as well as new strategies to support her recovery, helping her move toward a healthier lifestyle.

Doris Thurber, one of the organization’s founders, and Angie Boone, a graduate of the program, were recently guests for an episode of the arts council’s podcast, KyArtsCast. Thurber’s connection with the initiative is highly personal: In 2015 she lost her daughter, Maya, to a drug overdose of heroin and fentanyl.

The following text is an excerpt from the interview with Thurber and Boone:

“For a full year after Maya died, I was compelled to create art pieces that had her woven all through them. It took the form of huge collage pieces, paper glued onto cloth,” Thurber said. “I incorporated photographs of her, incorporated words she’d written, artwork she had done in grade school, layers of things that reminded me of her, told a story about her. It made such a difference to me to have something to do with myself in the process, trying to integrate this new information in my life, create a new normal.

“At the end of that year, I had all these interesting pieces I wanted to share with the community. I created an art show that had those pieces. Integrated into that were writings Maya had done and I had done, and some of the messages that she left behind in very visible places that she wanted her dad and me to find. … It pointed out to us that we didn’t want to keep going through with this with other people’s children or parents or anyone.

“It wasn’t long after that that two other artists (musician Joanna Hay and visual artist Jennifer Zingg, both of Frankfort) and I got together and created this idea. First it was a small idea, then as we talked it got bigger and bigger. This is our third year and we keep expanding.”

The program has proven to be valuable to Boone as she continues her recovery.

“My road of addition was horrible. I would stop and start again. I lost everything. Lost grandkids, my oldest kid,” Boone said. “When you stop and think about life in addiction, you see it’s like you’ve got the devil and you can’t knock him off your shoulder.

“Going into that room, though, was not just about drawing a picture. It’s about being able to open up about your addiction.”

According to information from Kentucky’s Administrative Office of the Courts, there are drug courts in 113 of Kentucky’s 120 counties. Thurber said that Hands Healing HeArts has as part of its mission a mandate to help other counties interested in starting a similar program with their own drug courts.

For the complete podcast interview with Hands Healing HeArts, go to KyArtsCast.ky.gov.

The arts council has also supported a similar initiative in Knott County, the Culture of Recovery, which involves patients at a nearby recovery center in creative activities like painting, blacksmithing and luthiery. We’ll explore that story in a future column.

Chris Cathers is executive director of the Kentucky Arts Council.