art is healing


this past saturday the refuge hosted a grafitti art workshop at joshua station, our friends near downtown denver who provide transformational housing for struggling families.  it was a perfect spot for our gathering and sam trujillo, who works for milehigh ministries (they are the umbrella organization for joshua station), did an amazing job facilitating a wild and crazy afternoon.  we had 30 participants, about 1/2 from the refuge, 1/2 from joshua station, with a wide range of ages (from 8 to 69 years old!) and backgrounds (the best part).   the common thread that wove us together was a desire to express ourselves in ways that some of us aren’t used to, to connect with our artistic side, our story.  grafitti, as we know, has both good and bad sides. there’s the part that’s beautiful and powerful, the free expression of people longing for a canvas to create and then there’s the weird gang tagging part.  we watched a few videos to connect with all sides, stir the pot, and make us think.  then we walked the grafitti wall that they have at joshua station (a while back sam invited some of his grafitti artist friends to come express themselves freely)  you can check out some of the pictures below, but they won’t give it justice.

a significant aspect of grafitti is a sense of identity, a mark, a “this is who i am”.   sam lead us in an exercise to help us connect with who we were.  everyone took time to write an “i am…” poem or piece to use on their creations.  you can check out the template here:

people did all different variations of this, but most used this as a guide that i think helped them really go there and not get all hung up on creating a poem on the fly.  i honestly think this is an exercise worth doing just personally or corporately in a small group or ? (if you take time to write one, i’d love to see it…)  i had the privilege of typing everyone’s poem after they were finished writing it so they could be printed and added to their piece.  i was utterly and completely blown away by the depth and power of the words people, young and old, from all different walks of life, shared about themselves.  my son jared is 8 and is mr. artistic. he wrote an amazing poem that made mama cry (you can check out his piece below)  here’s mine:

i am beautiful and messy

i wonder if the carnival in my head will ever leave town

i hear a crazy mix of lies and truth

i see glory and healing all around me

i want to feel more comfortable in my own skin

i am beautiful and messy


i pretend i’m stronger than i sometimes feel

i feel the breath of God on my face now and then

i touch wounds

i worry that i have become a little trapped

i cry over the mountains that never seem to move

i am beautiful and messy


i understand that God is big and alive and cares about his children

i say that community is healing

i dream that the invisible will be made visible

i try to love

i hope i will never give up on Hope

i am beautiful and messy

i am kathy

people then had the chance to gather images, collage items, and experiment with all kinds of other mediums to use on their boards.  then we went outside to spray paint.  way fun. the colors, the “you can’t really mess it up because you can just start over”, the “let it rip’ness” was really a blast.  it was amazing, the variety and diversity of each person’s piece.  afterward people put the finishing touches on their boards and used the paint & other medium in all different ways. some had sam tag their names, others did their own.

in these kinds of moments, i am always reminded that art is healing. it helps us get in touch with some part of our hearts that our brains just can’t “figure out”…it is a suspension of time and stress and worries and an entering into some weird sacred space that helps us grow, connect, and most of all notice the beauty.  the beauty of God. the beauty of my story. the beauty of my friend’s stories.  yeah, art is healing.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • i’m at work and only have a minute so i’ll have to come back read instead of just skimming, but i am loving this!! when we create (artsy stuff or not), we are being more of who we are…more like our Creator. good stuff!

  • While I prefer writing when it comes to “art,” I find it a stretching exercise to engage in other art forms. Like drawing. Or painting. Or crafting something out of play-doh. I suck at all those things, but I always manage to tap into something that is deep.

    Glad you guys had a ball digging . . .

  • haha- Even when your posts are light(er), they still gently remind me of who I am. One of my most favorite classes in my masters program was Expressive Arts therapy. I soaked every last bit of that up, and every single week, I knew exactly what I wanted to do for the rest of my life: pursue a dream as a childrens’ therapist; emphasizing on the creative arts as a means to healing. I even started collecting happy meal toys & such from friends’ kids for my future sandtray table….

    Somewhere along the way in the past several years.. well, I guess I found myself immersed in a corporate America and let myself forget how crucial the arts are to our soul & mind, i.e-mine.

    I love your poem, and how creating that assisted you in centering your identity. Love the gentle reminder that it is good to re-visit dreams, and the arts are a powerful way to do so. 😀

  • davida – yep, any time we create we are imaging God…

    brian – yeah, different people all have different natural ways to express which is so good to nurture and cultivate as much as possible. but then there’s something about getting in touch with other forms that force us to go somewhere that isn’t natural and taps into something deep. for me, it’s just getting the space to create or express or tap into another way of experiencing something that things always happen…

    beth – thanks for your kind words…it was fun

    stacy – i do believe there’s this integrated processing thing that happens–words aren’t enough. saying them or writing them down in a journal helps but doesn’t always cut it (especially depending on the person). there’s just something about tapping into other sides of our hearts where God can unlock things that need unlocking. you would have had fun at this workshop!

    steph – thanks for the link!

    tracy – okay that is so cool! it is beautiful, i just had a chance to read it…i hope others give it a try, too. it was good for the soul, wasn’t it?

  • Thanks for the nice comments. I liked your I AM poem. I use something like it for poetry workshops I do.

  • I’ll have to dig out my I AM poem that I did in a writing workshop with Vicki Petersen. I’ll see if I can find it. I do remember that the line that runs thru it is ‘I am creative melancholy’.

  • cynthia – thanks for stopping by…yeah, it was a nice template to get people going

    amy – i’d love to see it. see ya tomorrow eve!

    ben – thanks for stopping by. i checked out wordle, too, that is cool..

    • thank you so much for sharing this! it always makes me happy when some of these ideas get used in real life and stir things up for others, too. yours was beautiful. i am going to use this this year again, i forgot about it and it’s one of those things that even if we’ve done it before, we’re always intersecting with it at new places. thanks for the reminder.


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