Top (Left), Hannah Lugo; Top (Right) Megan Hicks; Bottom (Left), Lauren Daughtery; Bottom (Right), Kathryn Snyder

Written by Tori Smith, Public Relations and Social Media Assistant

Lauren Daughtery’s best moment in her career came at the very beginning. During her internship, she worked with a child who refused to talk to her for 12 sessions. During session 13, he looked her right in the eye and said, “I’m ready to make some art today.”  

That experience has been etched into her brain, and it shows the power of art therapy.  

Art therapy is “an integrative mental health and human services profession that enriches the lives of individuals, families, and communities through active artmaking, creative process, applied psychological theory, and human experience within a psychotherapeutic relationship,” according to the American Art Therapy Assocation

Art therapy was spearheaded by Margaret Naumburg (1890-1983), who opened the first Montessori school in the U.S. and the Walden School in New York City, which is still in operation today. According to the American Montessori Society, Montessori education is student-led and self-paced, but still guided and assessed by the teachers. 

The Walden School used Freudian psychoanalysis as a foundation, and employed music and art. In 1920 Margaret asked her sister, Florence Cane, to assist in the Walden School’s art education program. Florence had undergone psychoanalysis herself and was a true believer in art therapy. Her book, The Artists in Each of Us, was published in 1951. It’s been studied by art therapists for generations. 

Austrian artist and art therapy pioneer Edith Kramer (DATES) laid the foundation for community-based approaches; while art music teacher, theologian, and social activist Don Jones (DATES) brough awareness to the medical community about art therapy.  

Today, the profession requires a master’s degree, with varying levels of licensure. At minimum, students are required to complete 100 hours of supervised practicum and 600 hours of a supervised art therapy clinical internship.  

There are four types of licensures for art therapists from the Art Therapy Credentials Board (ATCB).  

  1. Provisional Registered Art Therapist (ATR-Provisional) 
  1. Registered Art Therapist (ATR) 
  1. Board Certification (ATR-BC) 
  1. Art Therapy Certified Supervisor (ATCS) 

In the state of Indiana, art therapy itself isn’t recognized as its own profession. If it was, it could be included as a Medicaid approved practice, which would increase the access to art therapy for underserved populations. It would also hinder unqualified individuals from claiming that they are art therapists and could improve mental health overall.  

Art therapy is available in clinical and community-based settings, both have their unique challenges and outcomes. 

Hannah Lugo (ATR) and Megan Hicks (ATR-BC) are art therapists at Riley Hospital for Children, Indiana University Health. 

Hannah grew up with a father who was an OBGYN, so she experienced a lot of conversation about fetal medicine. She credits those conversations to her current focus on families and babies who are a part of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). 

Hannah’s noteworthy project was an art piece that is still hanging on the walls of the Indianapolis hotel. A large flower mosaic hangs on the wall that represents a group of high-risk individuals who were in the maternity unit. They worked together over the course of eight weeks to bond over something they had never done before, and bond over the experience they were having in the hospital.  

On the other hand, Megan works mainly with patients who have experienced trauma.   

The core of Megan’s job, she said, is to figure out how to get someone who isn’t interested in art, to be interested in it. For her, it’s finding a way to give someone who has undergone trauma a new language. 

Megan worked with a 14-year-old male who was shot in the neck.  

He could move his eyes, but he had little neck motion. They gave him a headset with a laser pointer on it, and the pair would follow each other’s direction to make paintings together.  

“I was his creative director,” she said. “I built visual vocabulary in a way he wouldn’t have normally done.” 

Both Hannah and Megan believe that increasing access to art therapy is an important part of the profession. Whether it’s a community setting or in a museum, they think it’s important.  

“Art therapy has the potential to be great in any setting,” said Megan. 

“Art therapy has the potential to be great in any setting.”

Megan Hicks

According to the ATCB, art therapy can be used in many different settings: mental health, rehabilitation, medical, educational, forensic, private practice, workshops, and small group settings. 

For Lauren (ATR-BC), the setting was the Eskenazi Museum of Art at Indiana University as the arts-based wellness experiences manager. But that’s not where her love for art started.  

Her interest in being an artist started in fourth grade at DOMA. The Daleville native remembers her field trip and thought she wanted to be an artist but knew she didn’t have the artistic ability. Her high school art teacher introduced her to the idea of art therapy. Fast forward, and she’s now teaching at the Herron School of Art in the art therapy graduate program.  

When she was working as the arts-based wellness experiences manager, she brought a lot of her clinical skills into the museum world.  

“Museums don’t really understand what it means to have an art therapist on staff,” she said. “We’re viewed as an additional educator, and we are, but we also have a whole other skillset that not a lot of museums are tapping into.” 

Some of the skills she’s referring to are more successfully being able to lead a tour, because the art therapist may know why there’s a quiet kid in the back, or if someone has a large emotional response from an artwork, the art therapist could ask the appropriate questions.  

She also said another skill is that art therapists have a different way of looking at art than a typical docent would.  

“Art therapists also have a different view of art materials and the different types of responses they can illicit,” she said. “We wouldn’t give one person with depressive order and one person with anxiety the same art material.” 

Another large barrier to art therapy in museums is the admission charge that some museums require.  

There is an initiative of the Institiute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) called Museums for All that is trying to combat this challenge. Through the program, individuals receiving food assistance (SNAP) benefits can either get free or reduced admission to more than 1,200 museums in the United States by presenting their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Electronic Benefit Transfer (SNAP EBT) card. 

There are 16 museums in Indiana that are a part of this initiative, one being in Muncie.  

  1. Children’s Museum of South Bend in South Bend 
  1. The History Museum in South Bend 
  1. Studebaker National Museum 
  1. Mascot Hall of Fame in Whiting 
  1. Lubeznik Center for the Arts in Michigan City 
  1. Auburn Cord Duesenberg Automobile Museum  
  1. Whitley County Historical Museum in Columbia City 
  1. Fort Wayne History Center in Fort Wayne 
  1. Fort Wayne Museum of Art in Fort Wayne 
  1. Wabash County Historical Museum in Wabash 
  1. Minnetrista in Muncie 
  1. Kids Discovery Factory in Batesville 
  1. kidscommons Columbus’ Community Children’s Museum in Columbus 
  1. Koch Family Children’s Museum of Evansville 
  1. Swope Art Museum in Terre Haute 
  1. CANDLES Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Terre Haute 

As a reminder, admission to DOMA is always free. 

Kathryn Snyder (ATR-BC), an art therapist of 25 years and a recent art therapy doctoral graduate, agrees with Laureen that not everyone feels like they belong in a museum, both underserved and marginalized groups. Kathryn is based in Philidelphia, a city with an estimated 1,567,258 people as of July 2022 according to the United States Census Bureau. Out of the population, 61.5% of them were non-white, and 22.8% were in poverty.  

Kathryn completed two large research projects during the 5-year process of earning her PhD, one being focused on art therapy in a museum setting. Through this project, she interviewed 15 people in the museum field and some art therapists, while asking them what they knew about art therapy, what they thought about it, and what barriers do they consider to be associated with it. 

The big finding was this: there’s interest in art therapy in the museum setting, even if they haven’t had it yet. The largest barrier to implementing art therapy in a museum setting is the legal boundaries that need to be put in place, answering questions like: Would the museum take insurance? How would the art therapist be available? Would the museum need to set up appointments? 

Other than the legal parameters, access seems to be the largest challenge for art therapy in a museum.  

“It’s an accessibility and community resource issue,” Kathryn said. “It’s a mental health issue. Working in a community space can help destigmatize (mental health) and provide community need.”  

Kathryn said that having an art therapist on staff could even affect the way exhibits are presented: considering the placement of evocative and provocative objects, asking questions like: Who’s coming in? How are the different levels of staff interacting with them? 

Some museums implementing art therapy are following the European and Canadian models of social prescription for mental health and wellness, she said.  

According to the World Health Organization, social prescribing is “a means for health-care workers to connect patients to a range of non-clinical services in the community to improve health and well-being.” According to the Ontario Health Assocation, a few examples of social prescription could be art and dance classes, cooking classes, communal dining, and more. 

One of Kathryn’s missions is to be able to create an international network of art therapists who work in museums to “help people magnetize to each other and really speak into the work that is being done and is being desired to be done,” she said. She’s working with Minette Hand, an art therapist of Dallas, Texas, to create this international network. 

Art therapists are rare. They aren’t listed as a specific profession on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, but labeled as “Therapists, All Other.” In May 2022, 16,920 individuals were listed under “Therapists, All Other.” 

All in all, museums need to consider the accessibility of their space to ensure that all visitors are welcome and feel safe. They need to consider their physical accessibility by making sure their space is accessible to the disabled, and make sure their admission fees are low or none for low-income visitors. They also need to ensure they’re conscious of a visitor in the art they might be encountering, which is where an art therapist in a museum becomes beneficial for the museum and for the visitor.  

 “There’s a lot of hope in legitimizing this as a serious practice,” said Kathryn. 

Editor’s Note: Thank you to Eileen Misulk, Director of Art Therapy, Associate Professor at Indiana University for the historical information. All photos are provided.