/Olga Rublinetskas speech for Art Makes You/
When I was in my second to last year at the University of Washington studying psychology, I decided that I wanted to get more involved in the community and try something different. That’s when an advisor connected me with Circle of Friends for Mental Health, a fantastic organization that offers various arts classes for individuals with mental illnesses and those recovering from addiction. I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I agreed to become a drama teacher, considering my drama experience was limited to an improv class in 7th grade and a summer camp at Seattle Children’s Theatre. Nevertheless, I agreed to teach drama weekly at a psychiatric community center in Wallingford and to this day, it has probably been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. After a few months of charades, improv games, and short skits, my regular students and I decided to write a short skit - what became known as “The Healing of Arnold.” One of my students did a killer Arnold Schwarzenegger impression, so obviously he had to be a character pioneering an intense physical work-out as a sort of “cure” for mental illness. Pretty soon, Obama made it into the script, along with some free-spirited hippies who challenged Arnold to access his internal strength through yoga and meditation. Oh, and naturally there was a dance number to the YMCA in it too. The play was ridiculous, to say the least, but who was I to stand in the way of their creativity? After weeks of rehearsals and crazy plot alterations, we performed it at the center and it was a smash hit. After we performed it and were parting ways for the day, the star of the skit, Arnold, came up to me and said something that I think will stay with me for a long time to come. He said, “Thank you for letting us be ourselves.”
I let him and my other students be themselves? What does that mean? And why is it something to be so grateful for? These are thoughts that went in and out of my mind for days after he said this. I soon realized, though, that for my students, our drama group, which took up a mere hour out of the week, was special because it allowed them to open up and express themselves completely, without fear of judgment. It was a place of comfort and solace in a world where their voices were often shunned and ignored.
This is what art has the potential to do for people, for everyone - regardless of age or mental ability. Whether it be drama, or painting, or writing, or playing music, these crafts allows people to be themselves in a world that often encourages conformity. It allows them to discover themselves and build a stronger voice, which is nothing short of empowering.
And you know who really needs this, even more so than the Arnold of my play? Kids. Whose lives and voices have been largely torn apart and silenced by a horrible war. Kids, whose greatest supporters may not be around for them anymore. Kids, who are hurt and confused, and have no real way to express these emotions or even begin to try and resolve them. Allowing kids to create something of their own that they can be proud of is empowering and strengthening. It is therapeutic while creatively stimulating. I have no doubt that we’ve all experienced these same feelings as kids and adults - after drawing a picture, or composing a piece of music, or writing a poem, or whatever other piece of work you’ve created in your lifetime that you’ve been proud of.
I wholeheartedly believe that it’s our collective responsibility as compassionate human beings and as supporters of the next generation to allow these kids to experience these same feelings. It’s these same feelings and experiences that will provide them with the strength they need to heal, to develop their own unique voices, and to live happy, fulfilling lives.