Can art be used as a tool for emotional healing? Cheyney University’s Dr. Marietta Dantonio-Madsen believes it can, and she was in Washington last month to show evidence through her film You Are Not Alone.
Dr. Madsen, who has been at Cheyney for 21 years, and received her doctorate from Wilmington University, says such work is one of her passions.
“I love helping communities and people heal spiritually, physically and emotionally through art,” she said. “I’ve done at least 100 projects around the world focused on healing. The film showcases one of these important projects. It was a three-day journey for the children at the Main Street Counseling Center in Stroudsburg (Pennsylvania) to rediscover their self-esteem and to learn to love themselves.”
You Are Not Alone is a documentary produced in 2008 about art therapy by Leslye Abby-Snowflake Video Productions. The film follows a three-day project of students creating a painted mural of a six-by-six-foot sculpted turtle developed by Madsen. The purpose was to allow the students to use art to express their deepest emotions to aid in their recovery from trauma. The remarkable mural project uses traditional colors and symbols influenced by Native American, African, and Asian cultures. The colors and symbols of the mural are meant to depict the intense emotions of the children.
The film was shot at the Main Street Counseling Center in Stroudsburg, headed by psychotherapist Dr. Paul Boggia.
“Paul has such a passion for helping young people through their traumas and I was very impressed with his goals. In the documentary, the children talk about their progress in expressing their emotions. The purpose was to allow them the total freedom of expression and reflection through art,” Dr Madsen said. “If you watch the video, the growth of these children is so beautiful, and I utilize this in every one of my projects. It has to be a moment of sharing.”
Artist and Cheyney University alum Amir Campbell assisted Dr. Madsen in the You Are Not Alone project and remarked as to why he became involved in this healing through murals project and the benefits such projects offer to urban communities.
“I became involved because of the compassion, care and commitment Dr. Madsen has for culture and the arts,” Campbell said. “She intertwines these two worlds to express the genealogy and untold stories that is the very essence of the children that this particular mural was about. Dr. Madsen showed me the world of art which is why Cheyney University Arts will always have a special place in my heart.”
Dr. Madsen’s impressive credentials of International Art Exhibitions include shows across the globe: Ireland, Egypt, Russia, India, Germany, Spain, and South Africa. She is the founder and president of Totem Rhythms, an organization that strives to build self-esteem and cultural awareness of the heritage of Native Americans and indigenous people. Her artwork “Prayer Circle” was aired on the TV show White House Chronicle where she was recognized as the leading Healing Art expert in the United States.
Her most recent Healing Arts projects includes the Stop the Violence Mural, designed by Jazmyn Robinson, for Cheyney University, the Lenape Tribe of Delaware Family History Mural and the All as One mural at Ferris School for Boys, in Wilmington.
The Ferris School is a secure care treatment facility providing services for up to 72 court committed boys, ages 13 to 18. The average length of stay is six months, followed by a six-week transition program. Madsen said her experience with the group was amazing.
“I worked with 72 incarcerated youths but before the project began, I had to prove to the administrators how it would help. I asked them to give me two weeks and they agreed,” she said. “When I went into the area where I would be working with the boys, I saw a bunch of guards. I gave the boys a choice; they could either keep the guards or have them leave and work with me. One day during those two weeks, the superintendent came in and was shocked to see them working in teams. See, I told them the truth and they knew that. The lesson is if you don’t believe what you’re saying, they won’t believe it. That’s how I was able to reach them. Freedom comes from within.”