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Posts Tagged ‘healing’

6Photo: Fondazione Manifesto
Poggioreale, Sicily, one of the towns destroyed by a 1968 earthquake. A public art project has helped to heal the region’s survivors, many of whom were still suffering from depression decades later.

I’ve blogged a lot about the healing power of various arts in various contexts, but I think this is the first post about what art can do for a traumatized region after a natural disaster. The story takes place in Sicily, where a 1968 earthquake flattened an already impoverished region.

Patricia Zohn writes at artnet news, “On a recent day this summer, I [descended] into the rural, arid Belice Valley. I was accompanied by Zeno Franchini of the Fondazione Manifesto, an advocacy group that leads tours of the region, which was devastated by the 1968 earthquake in Sicily. …

“More than the number of people who died (approximately 400), or the number rendered homeless (approximately 100,000), the earthquake exposed grave fissures in the socioeconomic and political fabric of one of Italy’s poorest regions — disparities that linger to this day.

“While thousands of earthquake victims lived outside Gibellina, an isolated agricultural community, in two shanty towns with barebones infrastructure, in 1970, the National Institute of Social Housing in Rome, determined, after numerous plans for reconstruction were abandoned, to build an entirely new city, a Gibellina ‘Nuova’ for the victims at a site 11 miles from the ruins. …

“By 1979, scant progress had been made due to government corruption, the Mafia influence, and red tape, and victims were still living in dire conditions. That’s when Gibellina’s flamboyant, powerful gay Mayor, Ludovico Corrao, invited a number of leading Italian and German artists and architects to participate in a rescue mission. …

“Though there was no budget for art or culture, Corrao had already begged and borrowed to found the Orestiadi performance festival, just outside the ruins of Gibellina, with the help of performers like John Cage and Philip Glass. Emilio Isgrò, an artist and dramatist, described a wind-chilled night of 1983

‘where artisans, sheep farmers, housewives, anti-Mafia judges and theater directors and personalities from all over Europe sat together to watch’ his performance in the festival. …

“The concrete Utopian city of Gibellina Nuova [became] an open-air laboratory for assessing the healing capabilities of public art. Today, 50 years since the earthquake struck, many look back on Corrao’s radical experiment in civic engagement, rehabilitation, and unification as a cautionary tale. But new efforts are now underway to realize a more pragmatic version of [his] utopian dream.

“ ‘The city needs to really become an Art Town,’ says Alessandro La Grassa, president of the Center for Social and Economic Research of Southern Italy, the organizational heir to the early activist efforts. He envisions it as a place ‘where artists live or stay and where empty buildings and spaces start to find a new function.’ …

“Today the region is a symbol of hope. A newly revitalized combination of social activists, municipal agencies, educational institutions, and private support is finally bringing the unique art interventions of more than five decades in the Belice Valley — and especially the city of Gibellina — to the attention of a wider public. …

“Tours of Poggioreale, Burri’s Cretto, and Gibellina Nuova are available until November 14 through fondazionemanifesto.org.” More here.

I wonder how public art might by employed to rebuild after a hurricane like Michael. Something for art leaders in Florida to think about.

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Photo: Hartford Courant
Former US Marine Roman Baca
develops ballets that help veterans heal and help audiences gain empathy. For his Fulbright Fellowship, he’s creating a new version of Igor Stravinsky’s
Rite of Spring tied to WW I.

Not long ago, Suzanne’s friend Liz found a piece of antique weaponry and asked instagram friends how it might be used in an art project or something else positive.

I said to “beat it into plowshares.”

In their own way of beating weapons into plowshares, war veterans may continue to serve the country after their time in the military. They may run for Congress like Seth Moulton of Massachusetts or establish a nonprofit like Soldier On, which treats veterans suffering from addictions.

And then there’s the Marine who became a choreographer to tell stories that enlighten and heal.

Candice Thompson writes at Dance Magazine, “When Roman Baca returned home from active duty in Iraq in 2007, he found himself having a tough time transitioning to civilian life.

” ‘I remember a couple of instances where I was mean and angry and depressed,’ says Baca. [His wife] suggested Baca return to his roots in dance. ‘She asked me, “If you could do anything in the world, what would you do?” ‘…

“Baca had to broker his transition back into dance. Earlier, he had trained at The Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory in Connecticut and spent a few years as a freelance dancer before feeling compelled, like his grandfather had, to serve his country. ‘I walked into the recruiter’s office and said, “I want to help people who can’t help themselves.” ‘ Baca reveled in the rigor of the Marine Corps, which seemed like a perfect analog to classical ballet. …

“Baca served as a machine gunner and fire team leader [in Fallujah]. And while his job was one of looking for insurgents and intelligence, Baca also ended up doing humanitarian work, bringing water and school supplies to those in need. The transition from violence to aid helped him meet his original desire to defend the vulnerable.

“In 2008 … he reached out to his mentor Sharon Dante from The Nutmeg Ballet Conservatory. He had dabbled in choreography before joining the Marines and had begun to write while overseas. Dante suggested [that he] focus his writing and choreography on his experiences in Iraq. The exploration led Baca to form Exit12 Dance Company, a small troupe with a goal of inspiring conversations about the lasting effects of violence and conflict. …

“When a theater in the UK reached out to him in 2016 about creating a new Rite of Spring — one that would explore the connections between the creation of this famous ballet and the outbreak of World War I, in commemoration of the war’s centennial, as well as touch on today’s veterans and current events — he knew immediately it was a project for [him].

” ‘One percent of our population serves in the military, and an even smaller number serves in war,’ explains Baca of one of the central questions motivating this new commission. ‘How do we take all of this remote and little understood experience and inspire the audience to positive action?’ ”

More at Dance Magazine, here.

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Photo: National Institutes of Health via AP
Soprano Renee Fleming looks at a brain scan with NIH neuroscientist David Jangraw after singing in the MRI machine.

To help scientists understand how music helps patients heal, notable musicians like opera’s Renee Fleming are getting brain scans.

Lauran Neergaard writes at the Associated Press, “Music increasingly is becoming a part of patient care — although it’s still pretty unusual to see roving performers captivating entire wards, like at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital one fall morning.

“ ‘It takes them away for just a few minutes to some other place where they don’t have to think about what’s going on,’ said cellist Martha Vance after playing for a patient isolated to avoid spreading infection.

“The challenge: Harnessing music to do more than comfort the sick. Now, moving beyond programs like Georgetown’s, the National Institutes of Health is bringing together musicians, music therapists and neuroscientists to tap into the brain’s circuitry and figure out how.

“ ‘The brain is able to compensate for other deficits sometimes by using music to communicate,’ said NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins, a geneticist who also plays a mean guitar.

“To turn that ability into a successful therapy, ‘it would be a really good thing to know which parts of the brain are still intact to be called into action. To know the circuits well enough to know the backup plan,’ Collins added. …

“ ‘The water is wide, I cannot cross over,’ well-known soprano Renee Fleming belted out, not from a concert stage but from inside an MRI machine at the NIH campus.

“The opera star — who partnered with Collins to start the Sound Health initiative — spent two hours in the scanner to help researchers tease out what brain activity is key for singing. How? First Fleming spoke the lyrics. Then she sang them. Finally, she imagined singing them.

“ ‘We’re trying to understand the brain not just so we can address mental disorders or diseases or injuries, but also so we can understand what happens when a brain’s working right and what happens when it’s performing at a really high level,’ said NIH researcher David Jangraw, who shared the MRI data with The Associated Press.

“To Jangraw’s surprise, several brain regions were more active when Fleming imagined singing than when she actually sang, including the brain’s emotion center and areas involved with motion and vision. One theory: it took more mental effort to keep track of where she was in the song, and to maintain its emotion, without auditory feedback.”

Read how the new insights are being used to study Alzzheimer’s patients and others here.

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Photo: Homeboy Industries
The Rev. Gregory J. Boyle, S.J., is the founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program in the world.

I recently heard Terry Gross interview this amazing priest, founder of the world’s largest gang intervention, rehabilitation and re-entry program, on her radio show Fresh Air. This is a man who lives his religion, ministering to the outcasts of society.

“GROSS: My guest, Father Greg Boyle, has worked with former gang members in LA for over 30 years. He’s the founder of Homeboy Industries, which was created to help former gang members and people transitioning out of prison create stable lives and stay out of gangs. Instead of Father Greg trying to convince business owners to hire young people who are at risk, he created jobs for them through Homeboy Industries.

“Homeboy is a series of businesses including a restaurant, a bakery, cafe, farmers markets created with the purpose of hiring these young people so they can have on-the-job training. The employers come from rival gangs so they have to put aside their distrust and hatred of each other. Homeboy also provides other job training and social service programs. …

“Back in the ’80s and ’90s, Father Greg spent a lot of time on the streets. He’s witnessed shootings, he’s buried over 200 young people and he’s kept on with the work in spite of being diagnosed with a chronic form of leukemia about 15 years ago. He started working with gangs in 1986 when he became the pastor of the Dolores Mission Church in East LA, which was then the city’s poorest Catholic parish. He’s just written his second book, called, Barking To The Choir: The Power Of Radical Kinship.

“Father Greg Boyle … you say that employment isn’t necessarily going to totally change someone’s life. They might end up back in prison. But if somebody’s healed, that will change their life possibly forever. What’s the distinction you make between [the employment] opportunity that you’re giving them and healing?

“BOYLE: Thirty years ago when we started Homeboy Industries, you know, the motto was nothing stops a bullet like a job, and that was a response to gang members saying if only we had work. And that was essential, but then when we discovered that, you know, we would dispatch gang members to jobs. But the minute any kind of monkey wrench was tossed into the mix, they would unravel, you know, that there was no resilience.

“There was no healing. And they would go right back to gang life or go back to prison. So it was then that we kind of, probably 15 years ago, we said, you know, healing is probably more necessary along with the fact that people need to have a reason to get up in the morning and a place to go and a reason not to gang bang. …

“So we altered our [stance] from just finding a job for every gang member or employing them with us but also trying to have them come to terms with whatever suffering they’ve been through and trauma. …

“GROSS: You talk about people whose parent would put their head in the toilet and flush the toilet and nearly drown them. … So when people have been brought up like this, and they’re also poor and they have no real future prospects, how do you heal them? …

“BOYLE: Well, part of what we have at Homeboy is this irresistible culture of tenderness, you know, where people kind of hold each other. …

“We don’t get tripped up so much by behavior. Even gang violence itself is a language. … What language is it speaking? You know, it’s not about the flying of bullets. It’s about a lethal absence of hope. So let’s address the despair. And the same thing is with behavior.

“I mean, we bring it up, and at some point we say, we think you’re telling us that you’re not ready to be here. We love you. We think you’re great. Come back when you’re ready. So that’s the thing we do often enough. And we drug test because we don’t want anyone to numb their pain as they do the work. …

“They’re not going to be able to transform their pain if they’re inebriated or if they’re constantly smoking marijuana. … They’re used to self-medicating. They’re used to escape. They want to find that place where they can’t see their pain from. And the antidote, really, is to hold them in a place where they feel cherished, and that’s really compelling.”

There’s so much food for thought in this long interview. Read it at NPR, here.

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Art: Rene Meshake
Ojibwe artist Rene Meshake was part of a group of indigenous storytellers from Canada who attended the Untold Stories conference in Ireland in May.

As many people know, there was a dark period in US history when authorities thought is would be a good idea for indigenous children to be separated from their language, families, and culture. The same thing happened in Canada. Today, those children and their children are reclaiming their voices and telling their own stories.

Here is Catherine Conroy at the Irish Times: “On a Friday morning in a house in Dublin, I sit down to speak with three indigenous storytellers from Canada. They are here for a conference called The Untold Stories of the Past 150 Years/Canada 150 at [University College Dublin]. …

“Maria Campbell, Rene Meshake, and Sylvia Maracle, from Canada’s ‘Indian Country,’ accompanied by indigenous historian Kim Anderson, tell me a story of pain, resilience and the rebuilding of a shattered community through stories.

“Sylvia Maracle is an activist and storyteller from the Tyendinaga Mohawks. She believes their stories will resonate with Irish people, ‘with colonisers having come and disrupted what was probably the natural order.’ …

“She tells me of a conversation she had with an Irish taxi driver when she arrived. ‘He asked, “Are people recovering their memories?” I said, “They were always there, we just didn’t have the conversation.” He said, “That’s what happened here.” ‘ …

“Maracle believes in the power of storytelling as a force for rebuilding their communities. She feels privileged to have been ‘old woman raised’ by her traditional grandmother. …

“Maracle tells me that people now visit Maria Campbell ‘because they want this good medicine, this traditional stuff.’

“Campbell agrees that storytelling is medicine. ‘I grew up with a great grandmother and she never spoke English, she was a total “savage” according to the priest because she never converted.’

“But while Campbell grew up with stories, she always felt split between her traditional home life and her life outside. It was only after she stopped using drugs and attended her first ceremony in her late 20s that she realised the healing power of the stories, which came from ‘the old ladies, always women laughing.’ It was a revelation to realise ‘that you’d got this medicine, everything you need to help put yourself back together.’

“Campbell tells a story about the effects of colonisation that she learned from her teacher, the Old Man. …

“He had been trying to explain to her the effect of colonisation on their community’s wahkotowin, which in English means kinship, ‘but if you look at the word bundle, it’s all of our laws, it’s the way that we talk to each other, the way that we laugh.’

“He threw [a] jigsaw in the air. ‘He said, ‘”That’s what happened to us, everything was shattered and wahkotowin flew. Maybe you have three pieces, maybe she’s got half of one, if we come back together and we start to rebuild that, you bring your three pieces, you bring yours, and soon we’ll make the picture.” ‘…

“She recalls one story she wanted from her father that he would not give. ‘Then he got diagnosed with a terminal illness and I had to do the translating for him [in hospital]. I kind of went to pieces when we were driving home. He pulled to the side of the road, rolled me a cigarette, and he said, “That story you want, I’ll give it to you now.” He retold it and she understood now that it was a story about death, not the funny story she’d always thought it was.

“She translated and published the story. ‘In my family’s way, they were telling me that they trusted that I would treat it with integrity.’ ”

More at the Irish Times, here.

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Tim Jonze wrote a funny story at the Guardian about hiring a therapeutic opera singer to deal with his anxiety about becoming a father.

“The soprano reaches a dramatic climax, demonstrating impressive lung power as she sustains the dizzying peak note, before bringing Quando me’n’ vo’ to its close. It is a powerful, emotionally draining performance, and one that seems to resonate around the room for some time after she has finished. Which is why I get up off the sofa and ask her if she would like a cup of tea.

“This, as you might have guessed, is not your typical night at the opera – and not only because it’s only just gone 11 am. It is called Opera Helps, and is a project dreamed up by the artist Joshua Sofaer. The gist is this: contact the Opera Helps phoneline with a personal problem, and they will endeavour to send a singer to your house. Said singer will briefly discuss the issue with you, select a suitable aria that addresses it, then perform it for you while you relax in familiar surroundings: on a comfortable chair, for instance, or even in bed.

“It’s not therapy as such – in fact, they are very keen to stress that their singers are not trained therapists – but the project does aim to help you look at your problem from a new perspective and, hopefully, experience the healing power of music.

“ ‘It’s about giving someone the space for reflection, the same way having a chat with a friend might give you fortitude to carry on,’ says Sofaer, who found success running the project in Sweden before bringing it to the UK. …

“ ‘In my experience, you either respond to the music or you don’t – I don’t think it is based on your musical education or what class you’re from or how much money you’ve got, which is the common perception. The idea that opera needs an expert audience is a complete misnomer.’ ”

More at the Guardian, here.

Photo: David Bebber for the Guardian  
Opera singer Caroline Kennedy sings to Tim Jonze to relieve his stress.

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The blogger at A Musical Life on Planet Earth — who has been healing from an injury suffered when he nearly tripped on an eager toddler in a music class — doesn’t need to be told that music is healing.

But for the rest of us, a new study from Greece on music and heart health might be enlightening. Tom Jacobs writes at Pacific Standard, “There are many ways of reducing your risk of a heart attack. A healthy diet. Regular exercise. And don’t forget your daily dose of Dylan or Debussy.

“A newly published, small-scale study from Greece finds listening to either classical or rock music positively impacts two important predictors of cardiovascular risk. The effects are particularly pronounced for classical music fans, who, in the study, had a more robust physiological response to music of either genre.

“ ‘These findings may have important implications, extending the spectrum of lifestyle modifications that can ameliorate arterial function,’ a research team led by cardiologist Charalambos Vlachopoulos of Athens Medical School writes in the journal Atherosclerosis. ‘Listening to music should be encouraged in everyday activities.’

“The pulse waves of one’s circulatory system and the rigidity of one’s arteries are related but independent predictors of morbidity and mortality. Essentially, the stiffer one’s blood vessel walls become, the greater the pulse pressure, and the harder the heart has to work to pump blood into the arteries. This can lead to higher blood pressure and an increased strain on the heart. …

“The participants, described as ’20 healthy individuals,’ visited the lab three times. On each occasion, baseline measurements of aortic stiffness and pulse wave reflections were taken following a half-hour rest period.

“They then either listened to a half-hour of classical music (primarily excerpts from J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suites); a half-hour of rock (including tracks by Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Green Day); or a similar period of silence. …

“The key result: both indicators were lower after participants listened to either genre of music. … More at Pacific Standard here.

And you can listen to to Will McMillan’s healing singing at A Musical Life on Planet Earth, here.

Will McMillan

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