Hudgens Center for Art & Learning

A Heart for Healing

Hudgens Center for Art & Learning
Ginger, left, a three time cancer survivor, attends Healing Arts classes with her mother, Donna. “I haven’t lived through all I’ve lived through to not have fun,” says Ginger.

For two and a half hours each month, people facing medical, physical or emotional crisis escape their worries while creating art at the Jacqueline Casey Hudgens Center for Art & Learning in Duluth. For Ginger, a three-time cancer survivor who attends Healing Arts classes with her mother, Donna, the experience brings joy and respite.

“You have to immerse yourself into the art so that you can’t think of anything else,” she says as she puts finishing touches on her latest creation, a mask that invites artists to pour their feelings into their art, letting it reveal their hopes and fears, pain and perseverance, enabling them to express feelings they may not verbalize.

“The Healing Arts provides a safe outlet for people to come to terms with emotional conflicts, increase self-awareness and express unspoken and often unconscious concerns about their illness and lives,” says Hudgens Center Executive Director Ife Williams. “Being creative allows them to step away from what they’re stressed out about, to get a mental break and in a social setting where they can talk as much or as little as they want about their sickness with others in the same situation. We have tears in these sessions.”

The sessions are offered at no expense to cancer, brain trauma and other patients thanks to funding, like that from the Jackson EMC Foundation. Patients are encouraged to bring family members and caregivers to join in the fun. At the end of each session, the budding artists have something they have created, “art that’s a microcosm of their life experience,” says Williams.

“Completing a piece of art can empower you,” she adds. “Art is therapeutic and requires focus and concentration. Doing it with others can open up a conversation that might otherwise be hard to start; it can be a bridge to sharing life concerns.”

Cancer survivor Karen Bohorquez, left, and her daughter, Kia, 13, take instruction from art teacher José Peña as they create masks in the Healing Arts program.
(L) Cancer survivor Karen Bohorquez, left, and her daughter, Kia, 13, take instruction from art teacher José Peña as they create masks in the Healing Arts program. (R) Healing Arts classes bring together those with common concerns (like cancer) and a common passion—art.

Creating that bridge was important to Connie Norman, the Center’s director of education, who introduced the Healing Arts program about 15 years ago after seeing the impact that creating a watercolor painting had on a friend battling breast cancer.

“When you’re engaged in art, you live in the moment, forget your problems,” says Norman. “It’s therapeutic and a much-needed break for the participants. A lot of them say this is the time they look forward to most.”

The Hudgens Center partners with the American Cancer Society and Gwinnett Medical System to offer the Healing Arts program. Along with making it available at the Hudgens Center, plans are underway to take the program into hospitals. Healing Arts kits for cancer patients will include a variety of projects—masks, sketchbooks, knitting or crocheting—that patients can work on while receiving treatment, according to Williams.

When you’re engaged in art, you live in the moment, forget your problems.

“There will be something for everyone to have an outlet to express feelings, emotions and thoughts,” she says with gratitude to the Jackson EMC Foundation. “Their grant has been critical to help us expand, to add programming to meet the capacity we’re serving, to take art out of doors into the hospital, and to offer all of this at no cost to the patients.”

Healing Arts impacted Renika’s life when she most needed support. Two years ago, she delivered a healthy baby after being induced early in order to undergo an emergency mastectomy the day after delivery. Three months into chemo treatments, her home burned to the ground.

“My mask was supposed to represent a transition from the darkness to the light,” says Renika, who is testimony to how the arts can help heal. “But from the beginning of my diagnosis, as I began to construct and reflect, there was more light in my story than I anticipated, which is testimony that even in our darkest hours, there can still be light, hope and goodness.”