Denise Malis was in her thirties when she left her job as a professional artist to pursue art therapy. She was looking for work and applied for one of the first positions she found. After being rejected, she realized that higher education was necessary. Apprehensive about returning to school because of the financial investment, Malis knew she had no other choice.
“I had a child,” said Malis. “But I thought, okay, this is really what I want to do.”
She enrolled in a master’s degree program at Lesley University in creative arts therapy, one that included all forms of therapy from dance to painting. After earning her degree, Malis went to work in the mental health field and collaborated with an art therapy day treatment group in Cambridge.
Now Malis, a professor of creative art therapy at Endicott College in Beverly and facilitator at the Art-for-Art Studio in Somerville, has organized a debut exhibit at the college’s Spencer Presentation Gallery entitled, “Art As A Gift: The Artist Voice of Studio Art Therapy.” The exhibit runs through February 27th, and Malis says it serves as both a unique aesthetic experience and a platform for understanding art therapy.
The exhibit features the work of ten artists from Malis’ studio as well as the Opened Studio Program of the Community Mental Health Center of Brooklyn, NY. On Thursday, February 21, 5:00-7:00 p.m., she will host a free reception in the Endicott gallery where the public can meet the artists over light refreshments and music. Malis and other artists will also present a lecture entitled, “The Creative Voice,” Friday, February 22, at 10 a.m. in the Endicott gallery, which is also free and open to the public.
The goal of the programs is to expose participants to the surrounding artistic communities through public exhibits while participants in the studio have the chance to enroll in the Somerville Mass Open Studio, the largest national open studio event.
According to Geoffrey Thompson, certified art therapist and collaborator of the project, the New York based studio encourages individual growth and empowerment through a highly personal and empathetic milieu.
“The sensory experience strengthens each artist leading to a powerful sharing of humanity for each person and within the community at large,” said Thompson.
A longtime friend and colleague of Malis, Thompson was the committee head of the American Art Therapy Association (AATA) and collaborated with her studio to display art at a Cleveland Exhibition. The artists have co-produced several projects and this past summer, gave a presentation on a paper they wrote about studio art therapy at an AATA conference.
Though art therapy is a growing field, Malis said it is often misunderstood. “People always make assumptions about the people you work with and places you go, so you have to become an ambassador for the profession,” said Malis. Part of that process is helping people understand what art therapy is, which she defines as, “the act of inviting people to engage with their natural right to creative expression.”
Each work of art in the exhibits is purposefully hung within the gallery to represent the unique role of the artist within the studio and community.
Asaki Nishiyama, a junior creative art therapy major and president of the art therapy club at Endicott, said she is looking forward to the events because, “creative therapy’s philosophy is one with great potential to heal the many wounds that exist in this world.”