Why it matters: Engaging in arts-related activities is helping families and individuals in Charlotte cope with stress and anxiety, while providing a sense of normalcy during the quarantine.
By Giovanna Torres
“It’s one thing that hasn’t changed,” says mom of two Amy Fistner, referring to her 7-year-old daughter’s piano lessons with Arts+. “She doesn’t go to the classroom anymore. School looks different. We’re not doing the same assignments, but we have piano every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. with Mr. John, and that consistency has been great for the whole family.”
The Fistner family moved to virtual lessons in mid-March, when Arts+ made the decision to start offering online private music instruction due to the coronavirus pandemic. Now, 98 percent of their music curriculum is being delivered digitally.
“The transition to the virtual lessons was seamless,” says Amy, who is enjoying spending time with her daughter while she takes piano lessons at home. “It’s a beautiful thing for me, because before, with lessons being after school and me being at work, my dad (her grandpa) had to be the musical instrument parent.”
The quarantine has had its benefits.
“Now that we’re all home together, I get to hear her piano lessons every week, something that I didn’t have before,” she says. “It’s such a treat to get to hear her play and hear her instructor’s feedback. It makes it easier for me to practice with her because I’m hearing that feedback first hand.”
Her 5 year-old son has also benefited from Arts+’s virtual experiences.
“His world is upside down,” she says, so they’ve engaged in the SignPlayMove program a couple of times, which is designed for children ages 2–6.
“He used to have music at school every Friday morning, so this is another consistency for him. He recognizes some of the songs, moves his body and gets to have fun. He sees friends his own age too. It has been so fun.”
LEANING ON VIRTUAL EXPERIENCES
Keisha Ramey Wilson has also looked to the cultural community during the quarantine. To supplement assigned schoolwork and make sure her 8-year–old daughter stays engaged, she’s started a series of homeschool art and science classes in the garage or the deck.
“She’s a STEAM kind of kid,” says Keisha. So every week when she’s putting together a schedule for her daughter, she pays extra attention to Discovery Place Science’s Stay-at-Home Science Series and other websites to compliment the curriculum.
Before the pandemic hit, they were regulars at Discovery Place and Children’s Theater of Charlotte. Now, she’s taking advantage of the virtual experiences to make the best of the situation. Even the simple fact
“That constant interaction with the outside world is very important. It means a lot to me that cultural organizations are still thinking of my child although we’re not physically there,” she said. “The offerings definitely provide a sense of normalcy for the family. I also believe it’s good therapy. For my daughter, art is a means to express herself and science allows her to think analytically. To see her calm and relaxed generally helps me. I’m good if she’s good.”
THE HEALING POWER OF MUSIC
Drums4Life is one of the many local groups that has transitioned to virtual programming, offering virtual African Drum Circles every Saturday via Facebook and Instagram Live. Cheryl Bartow remembers the first time she and her 9-year–old son attended one of the Culture Blocks-sponsored African Drum Circles at Charlotte Mecklenburg Library branches; she could hear the drums before she entered the building.
“Sometimes you can go in feeling heavy and when you leave…the weight is off. I know from my own experience that there’s some healing in the drums. Just the energy of the tapping of the drum is like a stress reliever,” she said. “To have a live virtual drum session and to be able to connect with it and have that in the presence of your own home, that’s a bonus!”
“Drumming works both side of the brain,” says Drums4Life founder Kojo Bey. “And engaging in drumming connects with our hearts, our own rhythm makers, bringing us to the moment that is right now. The process is stress relieving and a positive way to learn how to channel and manage emotions.”
Christine Smith has also found healing by playing an instrument. She began playing the flute when she was 10-years-old and continued to play in the band through her high school years and during college at Johnson C. Smith University. She stopped playing after she had her son.
“I’m very quiet, reserved and private. I was a military child and never very social, so music was my outlet,” said Smith.
Even though she does not go out often, her anxiety has been building up while being stuck at
“All this stress has been laying on me. I also have some mental health issues; I have bipolar disorder.”
When Italy started seeing an abrupt increase in their COVID-19 death toll, Smith almost had a breakdown.
“I had all this energy and didn’t know what to do with it,” she said. So she picked up her flute and played “Hallelujah.”
“I learned that by ear when I was in the sixth grade. Playing it brought back all those memories of performing, and I just felt calm and good about myself. I really enjoyed it, and I’m glad I made that choice of playing again.”
As with many art disciplines, playing an instrument has profound health benefits.
“There’s something in your body, in your mind that provides a calming effect,” she said. “Maybe that’s why music is so therapeutic, because it taps into that part of our brain.”
THE SCIENCE BEHIND ART THERAPY
There’s a reason why we revert to the arts. In 2010, the American Journal of Public Health published a review of studies on art and health, which found that engaging in some form of artistic activity improves well-being and feelings of self-worth, relieves symptoms of anxiety and depression and reduces stress.
A report published by the World Health Organization in 2019 also found that practicing art can help cope and regulate emotions while reducing loneliness.
Some organizations in Mecklenburg County have been using art therapy for some time now. An example is Charlotte-based Promise Resource Network (PRN) that works to advance recovery practices. One of their priorities is to encourage people to explore different pathways of wellness, healing and recovery. Thanks to an ASC Cultural Vision Grant, they have provided African dancing and drumming, writing, photography and clay workshops to individuals.
“The grant we were given allowed us to put these things in the hands of people that have never worked with clay; they’ve never been a part of a drum circle; they’ve never been involved in live music, and this has allowed them to explore their own recovery in a really fundamental yet unusual way,” said PRN’s CEO Cherene Caraco.
When they had to close their doors due to the stay-at-home order, PRN quickly transitioned to virtual programming, including crafts using everyday materials, writing for wellness workshops and open mics.
“Often times in the mental health community it is about taking medications and going to therapy,” she said. Caraco. “But what we know is that our bodies have the natural ability to heal if we listen to it and that artistic expression brings us so close to healing through our nervous system.”
The arts have proven to be a vital resource for expression and healing during times of uncertainty. They not only offer an immediate impact, but have proven long-term benefits as well. Take some time to take care of yourself and your loved ones by visiting CharlotteCultureGuide.com for a list of arts, science and history virtual programs. If you or someone you know is in need of peer-support, call PRN’S 24/7 warm-line at 833-390-7728.