Healing Trauma through the Expressive Arts

Mariah DavisPosted by Mariah Davis on November 26, 2019

At Mascoma Bank, we believe that the importance of art and the value of its creation goes far beyond anything displayed on walls or a stage. That’s why we are proud to be a longtime supporter of SafeArt, a community-based organization that uses the expressive arts as tools to support mental health and overall well-being.

Go to a healing session at SafeArt and you might find yourself dancing, painting, doing yoga, engaging in meditation, writing, walking outdoors—or any number of other practices, all aligned with the goal of healing from mental, emotional, or physical injuries and building skills through creative expression. It’s a technique that has grown and evolved over the past 20 years.

SafeArt was founded in 2000 by Tracy Penfield, who began her career as an artist and educator in the fiber arts and dance. In the mid-1990s, Tracy felt herself drawn to volunteer at Safeline, an advocacy and prevention organization that works to end violence against women and children. Through Safeline, she received training in helping those who deal with trauma. As she dealt with her own history of abuse, she became aware of how her dance classes were impacting her students, how “movement opened them up to joy, and opened them up to sadness,” she says. “The pieces all began to fit together. There’s trauma everywhere. It’s not always abuse. It can be accidental—a house burning down or the death of a loved one.”

A few years later, Tracy founded Safeart to bring this pathway of healing to schools, “with a lens of looking at relationship issues, including bullying, and working with the younger kids on inclusion, exclusion, and bullying. And with middle school on up, addressing physical and sexual violence.”

It wasn’t always easy bringing these issues to schools and the program wasn’t always met with a welcoming attitude. But Tracy always found at least one teacher or administrator who recognized how important it was to show kids they could talk about these issues with a trusted adult.

Tracy formed a group that performed at schools and conferences and in the Vermont statehouse, and was the public face of SafeArt. She ran SafeArt out of a small office on the second floor of the Mascoma Bank building in Chelsea, Vermont. When she had the opportunity to expand into some of the other spaces in the building that had opened up, she jumped on it, adding a movement studio, a visual arts space, office space, and a weaving and fiber studio with six looms. “Things were going well programmatically, but money has always been an issue.”

In 2011, the recession began to catch up with them, and they could no longer afford the rent. Tracy approached Steve Christy, the longtime president and CEO of Mascoma Bank who retired in 2017, to see if a reduction in the rent would be possible, considering that SafeArt was a nonprofit organization.

The answer that came back blew Tracy away. “He said, ‘not only may you have a discount, we are going to give you these spaces.’ He got what we were doing, and he was so community-minded.”

Leadership at Mascoma Bank continues to support the efforts of SafeArt by providing the space in the Mascoma Bank building rent-free. The impact of this donation on SafeArt is difficult to calculate. “I don’t know what would have happened with SafeArt, honestly,” Tracy says. “The impact is immense. Immeasurable.”

Mascoma Bank is proud to support the important work being done by organizations like SafeArt, and we invite you to join us in supporting groups that make our communities healthier and stronger. Visit SafeArt for more information.