University of Vermont

Office of Undergraduate Research

A Passion for Art Promotes Healing in Our Community

Maddie (English 2014)

One of Maddie's portable murals

The hard work of volunteering was nothing new to Maddie. After 36 hours of training, she worked once a week for seven months on the domestic violence hotline. Maddie utilized her crisis intervention training to connect callers with appropriate services at Women Helping Battered Women: a Burlington-based shelter (renamed Steps to End Domestic Violence in 2016). It was during these months that Maddie began to think about additional ways she could use her other interests and skills to provide something more to the community.

Steps to End Domestic Violence focuses its resources on providing an array of support structures to any victim of domestic violence. As with many non-profits, however, such resources are stretched thin. The organization relies on volunteer efforts to enhance its mission and expand the range of opportunities they offer to the community. Maddie coupled her art minor and her interest in expressive therapy with the financial support of the Simon Family summer fellowship. As a result, Maddie was able to develop art resources for the Children’s Program and other support groups at the shelter.

Through her program, Maddie provided art instruction and materials to adults and children at the shelter as a way for them to explore their emotions and promote healing. Maddie worked closely with a community social worker, got advice from an art therapist, and received artistic direction from her UVM mentor, Professor Kathleen Schneider. By combining the input of these professionals as well as her own unique skills, Maddie created two three-panel portable murals: one an informational board for promotional events, and the other a display board for the Safe at Work Network, a program that advocates for support in the workplace of those facing domestic violence. She led art based support groups and art nights for the Children’s Program. To create a fun and peaceful environment for these children, Maddie changed her original plan to be less structured and more open, allowing the kids to explore their artistic creativity. This program not only gave the children a stress-free time to express themselves, but also gave the adults time to relax as well.

Maddie’s programs and support groups facilitated the healing process for those at the shelter in a creative way, and she described how significant of a learning experience the process was for her, “Both in the support groups and in the art nights, I have learned that the production of artwork is secondary to the creation of a space where safe discussion and connection can happen”. As she reached the end of her research, Maddie implemented sustainable activities that the support groups could use after she left—ensuring that safe discussions and connections such as these would continue to be encouraged in the future.