By Gwen Clayton

Julia Guerin is an elementary school art teacher and artist with Parkview Healing Arts. The program integrates literary, movement, music and visual arts into patient care, healthcare facility design and esthetics.

Read on to learn about how Guerin found herself doing this work and what exactly a healing artist does.

How did you get involved with Parkview Healing Arts?
I’ve done some work with Wunderkammer Company and Dan Swartz. He heard about it through his friend Alison Gerardot and she was one of the founding people at Dance Collective. She asked him if he knew any artists who would be good for this and he said, “Julia.” She called me and I went in for an interview and was hired. It was about five years ago.

How often do you do this?
We each have about six and a half hours a week based off the grant and the program. I started out six weeks on and six weeks off and then they took it to every week as the program went on. I just found as a full-time art teacher, I wasn’t able to handle six and a half hours on top of my 40 hours a week, so I do about two and half hours a week. I found that’s a sustainable number for me and still feel really happy about coming in here.

What is it that you like about this?
I love that I get to meet new people. It’s also very unique. There’s really no other place where you get to walk into a room with somebody and just start talking. I have met so many people that I never would have met otherwise. It’s not like you walk on the street and start having conversations magically. I feel like in this space, people just open up and you’re there to hold space for them for whatever they need. A lot of people don’t have anybody coming to visit them in the hospital. I’ve had a couple people who have gone through traumas right before I was there. I just happened to go into the room at the right time and was able to hold space and be that ear to listen.

I go into open rooms but I talk to the nurses first, usually and ask who they think I should see. I’m sure to tell them, “don’t just give me the easy ones. Is there anyone you feel needs some sunshine?” A lot of times they’ll say, “don’t go to that one; they’re grumpy” and I’ll say, “no, that’s who I want to see” because at least more than half of the time, when I walk into a room and somebody’s super grouchy, somehow I can get things moving if they open up a little bit and I’ll leave and put a smile on their face. That’s my goal. It’s not to get them to create something specifically, but it’s to make their time here a little bit better. That’s giving them back a little bit of control that they didn’t have in a hospital setting.

It’s been cool. I’ve been able to do little tiny art lessons with people. I’ve been able to draw pictures for people and then a lot of times nobody will want to do anything but if I draw something for them and they color it in then I’ve gotten them into their mindful brain to be able to have some of that healing happening.

What is Frankenfuzzies?
Frankenfuzzies is my brand of creation where I take gently used stuffed animals or sometimes not even used at all. They just happened to not sell at all. They just happened to end up at Goodwill. Instead of those eventually ending up in a garbage dump, I take the ones that are still nice and take them home, wash them, and then I take them apart and rearrange them in new and different ways to create strange creatures. I give them names and little backstory personalities on their tags. They’re one-of-a-kind creatures. There will never be more than one like it because I never find more than one of the same animal. They come to life and have fun. Adults and children love them because they’re a conversation starter. I’m also a painter. I love to do literally any type of art. I’m going to try batik next, I think.

Is there anything else you want people to know about art therapy or what you do?
Art is for everyone, even if it means you’re going to color something. Everyone can color something and that gets you out of your talking brain and into your concentration brain. It turns off that flow of that stress hormone, Cortisol, that makes you anxious and attacks your organs and is all-around bad for you. This sort of turns off that faucet and allows it to come out and detox so you’re able to calm down. You’re able to heal better. That’s why there’s all these little coloring books on the market right now. People have found that it works. Even if you’re not able to sit down and draw something, you are able to sit down and color something.