Language and Arts Center: The Arts

Coordinator: Lisa Nesser

Support staff/ volunteer: Art Relief International (ARI) Art Director, a team of volunteers and an interpreter come to lead weekly arts based workshops in our learning center.
Other workshops are led by short term volunteers based on their availability and project proposal.

Art and artistic expression is proven to help people who have suffered great trauma and live in impoverished, marginalized communities overcome their limitations. Since the founding of our organization, therapy through artistic expression—including traditional arts, dance, drama and music—have been a vital element of our community education. Having a safe, comfortable space with all materials provided, basic skills taught and time for themselves has helped them to identify, process and release pent up emotions, past traumas and current stressful living situations. It’s proven to be invaluable for their progress as individuals and members of society.

Target Group
The members of our general population in the community center are aged 8 to adult. Out of the 50 students we enroll every three month term, it is up to them to choose the classes and workshops that they will attend. The majority of the students that choose to attend weekly art, music and drama classes are aged between 8 and 20, with a few older adults in attendance also.

1 Art Therapy
To give art therapy sessions that provide an outlet for release and self-expression. The workshop theme is decided between TFH and ARI directors at the beginning of the term and usually centers around building skills towards an end project or skill during the three month term. The art classes are extremely therapeutic for students who otherwise have no outlet of self expression to help process the trauma that they may have been exposed to.

2 Dancing
Dance classes include many workshops of different dance styles including Zumba, laughter yoga, belly dancing, hiphop, African dance and Shan dancing. The students learn different ways to express themselves through dance, and can notice how it correlates with the dances of their own cultures. Seeing the similarities and differences between cultural dances is a fun way to learn about the world.
We have three Shan dance troupes: one for the children, one for teens, and one for adults. They perform at various Shan and Thai festivals. This has proven instrumental in helping our community remain tied to their cultural values and history while showcasing a part of their culture that they are extremely proud of. We are now well known in the Shan community as skilled and entertaining dancers.

3 Drama
Drama classes provide the students with a safe place to project themselves. Classes have included work on how the students feel about coming from Shan state, living in Thailand, and what family and community means to them. When they perform these dramas for members of the community and their extended family members, it invariably leads to deeper understanding, communication and reflection within themselves and throughout our community.

4 Music
We hold music workshops that range from learning basic guitar chords to advanced music production. Our students have been professionally recorded and even included in famous DJs and artists’ compilations as a fundraising effort. They have performed at our events and in various venues in and around Chiang Mai in traditional styles and more modern pop style music.

5 Photography
We have used photography as a therapeutic tool and a way to process and reflect on the student’s situation and reaction to being so far from their homeland. We have had several documentary photography projects where our students have taken home inexpensive, plastic film cameras to document their lives. These photographs help educate Chiang Mai’s Thai and foreigner community about their living conditions, work environment, etc.

Ongoing/Current needs
Volunteers who are experienced professionals in art therapy and the arts and music in general to develop and lead weekly workshops for our students.

We currently have no budget for this project and use the space available from our learning center, TFH and donated materials.

Future Projects/Aspirations
We would love to have a budget for providing some higher quality materials and staples to our art project. These include paints, paper, and materials for specific workshops such as screen printing, journal creating, etc. It would be especially wonderful to have materials to support our sustainability by creating crafts that we can sell online or in our social enterprise.
We would also like to secure basic recording technology for our musical students to take their skills further. This equipment could be used by the Shan community at large and help encourage the documentation of traditional arts. There are local musicians that are professionals who can provide training on the equipment.
An integral part of the stability and expansion of these projects is securing funding to hire a full time staff member from the local community to oversee these projects, recruiting and training volunteers, documenting results and bringing the results to the public.