Open Art Studio Makes an Impact on Campus

Emily Drenovsky works in her visual journal during the open art studio.

Emily Drenovsky, a first year graduate student in the art therapy master’s program, values her own art making. She finds the open art studio at Mount Mary University as a designated time for her to make art. During the studio, she enjoys working in her visual journal, which is filled with drawings, collages and paintings.

“I like that I can make something small and quickly and be able to keep it with me,” Drenovsky said. “I look back at the journal often, and I think back on what was going on at that time when I made this image or artwork.”

The open art studio at Mount Mary is currently held every Monday from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. It provides a space for students and the community to explore different art materials and create art in a relaxing environment.

How the Studio Started

Meaghan Dugan, a 2016 graduate of the art therapy master’s program, started the open art studio in fall of 2015. She was feeling overwhelmed with her final research project, and Chris Belkofer, chair of the art therapy department and director of the art therapy master’s program, suggested doing something with college-level students.

“I started to recognize the creative campus initiative providing opportunities for students to be creative outside the classroom, but also inside the classroom,” Dugan said. “It kind of naturally hit me that an open studio would allow a lot of growth for our students.”

When Dugan pitched the idea of an open art studio to Belkofer, he told her the project was more suitable for doctoral work. However, Dugan felt her experience as a graduate assistant for student engagement would support her in this new project and decided to take on the challenge.

Megan Tigges cuts up old magazines to create a collage.

Dugan saw how the sense of community in the studio impacted the students.

“Having alumnae come back, having community members be a consistent area provides opportunities for students to grow beyond the classroom,” Dugan said.

Dugan completed her undergraduate degree at Carroll College in physical therapy, yet she has always been interested in art. A professor suggested she look into art therapy.

“It molded my love with psychology and taking care of people and seeing that whole process of recovery, but being able to use something that I’m good at, and I really like doing,” Dugan said.  

Dugan is ecstatic with how the open art studio turned out. She started something from the ground up that is making an impact on campus.

“The fact that it’s going to continue makes me more excited,” Dugan said. “Knowing that I put so much hard work into it, that it’s paying off makes me very excited. And I’m only more elated to see where it goes from here.”

Benefits of the Open Studio

Erica Browne enjoys a relaxing afternoon in the studio.

The open art studio is currently supervised by intern Erica Browne, a first year graduate student in the art therapy master’s program. She enjoys supervising the open studio because it provides a space for her to take break from school by making art.

“It can just be something that you can do for like an hour and play around with, without creating a serious piece of art,” Browne said. “If you want to do that, you can do that too. You could do an ongoing project. But I think it’s that nice hour, two hours where it’s more freedom to (make art).”

Browne graduated from the College of Santa Fe in 2003 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in sculpture. One her jobs after graduating was constructing and fabricating environments for animals to live in at the Bronx Zoo. She also worked on sculptures for the butterfly garden at the zoo.

She can see the therapeutic benefits of art in her own life and in the lives of others. When she has not made art in a long time, she feels out of sorts, so making art becomes a way for her to take care of herself.

“I think (art therapy) is a good form of communication for people who haven’t learned ways of communicating as effectively or just respond well to art medium and sensory experiences,” Browne said.

Kate Zolandz creates the body for her apple head doll.

The supervision of the open art studio is part of her internship with Bloom. Bloom is a center for art and creative therapies started by Emily Nolan, assistant professor of art therapy and the internship coordinator, while completing her doctorate in art therapy at Mount Mary.

“When I was creating Bloom, one of things that I really felt was important was this idea of pairing experience with education and making sure that students got art therapy experiences,” Nolan said.

There are four different parts to Bloom: individual private therapy sessions, community programs, consolations and supervision for new art therapy professionals to become licensed and registered as art therapists.

“It’s important for people to have a place to be able to engage in art-making in the presence of other people,” Nolan said. Those experiences can be therapeutic.”

Drenovsky said that for someone who is interested in art making, the open art studio provides a space to use newer materials that might not otherwise be easily available, to find inspiration through seeing others’ work and to build connections with other like-minded students.

“It could also be, for someone who might not be interested in art, a really simple introduction (to art making),”  Drenovsky said. “It’s a pretty safe place. There’s no judgement. This isn’t an art class. You’re not going to get graded, so there’s that nice element of it too. That is just for fun and community building.”


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