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Molly Gage

Art Therapy in the Public Sphere: Fun with Zines

          “Art is not a mirror held up to reality, but a hammer with which to shape it.”     —Bertolt Brecht

            What is the role and responsibility of the art therapist in contemporary society? Can art therapy be effectively employed on a public scale? What are the essential components of a model of public art therapy? Is it possible to create a therapeutic experience through public artmaking?

            The practice of art therapy does not occur in a vacuum. Contemporary American popular culture encourages consumption rather than creation, separating us from a human propensity to think and act creatively. Sociocultural restrictions based on gender, class, race, ethnicity, and age also limit many people’s opportunities and sense of agency. Acknowledging and dealing with the often illogical and oppressive conditions under which we and our clients exist is an important principle in art therapy practice. My role as an artist, my role as an art therapist, and my place in the community exist on an overlapping continuum. In all these roles and venues, aesthetics, process, communication, and the potential for growth and empowerment are of critical concern to me. Whether on a private or public scale, art provides an opportunity for making choices and experiencing our own power—the power of our imaginings and creations.

            In this thesis, I examined the potential of art therapy to operate on a public scale, both by exploring new genre and community-driven public art projects and by designing and completing a small-scale project of my own. I was interested in how the essential elements of an effective art therapy session—relationship, communication, creative problem-solving, and creative expression—might play out in a project whose aims were directed toward the general public rather than an identified client.

            My public art project took place in the Chicago Cultural Center. I chose this location because it was accessible to, and utilized by, people of diverse ages, classes, and cultural backgrounds. The project took the form of small books that each participant constructed from a single sheet of paper. They had the opportunity to use the book to share information or ideas on whatever topic they wished. The books were then photocopied by me and distributed among participants so that they could be exposed to other participants’ ideas.

         Art making in the context of art therapy provides people with a means to envision new options and choices about themselves and the world in which they live: a society in which art and its therapeutic potential are readily accessed is one of great possibility.


          Molly Gage received a BA in Fine Arts at the University of Oregon and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in West Africa before coming to Chicago to pursue a graduate degree in art therapy. Molly completed a yearlong internship at Cook County Hospital working with children and adolescents.


Thesis Advisor: Cathy Moon, Assistant Professor, Art Therapy

Thesis Reader: Dan Anthon, Instructor, Art Therapy

Second Reader: Nicholas Lowe, M.A. Visiting Artist, Arts Administration




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