Museum of Northern Arizona art workshops help students work through depression, anxiety through art

Ellis-Ray Uqualla  learning balance at the Museum of Northern Arizona March 21 at the Pivot exhibit. Uqualla and other Havasupai and Yavapai-Apache students attended an 'Expressions of Hope art workshop' to learn about the healing process of art and creative expression. (Photo/Museum of Northern Arizona)

Ellis-Ray Uqualla learning balance at the Museum of Northern Arizona March 21 at the Pivot exhibit. Uqualla and other Havasupai and Yavapai-Apache students attended an 'Expressions of Hope art workshop' to learn about the healing process of art and creative expression. (Photo/Museum of Northern Arizona)

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Havasupai and Yavapai-Apache students spent a few days at the Museum of Northern Arizona at Pivot: Expressions of Hope workshop, where they learned the healing process of art as they created their own skateboard art.

Duane Koyawena and Landis Bahe, co-curators of the exhibit were both on hand to share stories and inspiration with the students as they created their own personal works of art.

The workshops focus es on how art and other creative outlets can be useful tools for dealing with stress, depression or other issues everyone faces. This was the third of the workshops the museum has put on. The first workshop brought in Hopi and Navajo youth and the second workshop drew in Flagstaff youth and was sponsored by the Coconino Country Career Center.

All of the workshops have been supported by NARBHA, Steward Health Choice and MNA. Fratelli’s has donated pizza for the art workshops.


Dawnae DeRoche, from Supai, works on her skateboard art after hearing from co-curators Duane Koyawena and Landis Bahe about the healing aspects of creating art. (Photo/Museum of Northern Arizona)

One of the Havasupai students, Dawnae DeRoche, 17, said while she has been out of the canyon before, she had never been to the museum and rarely been to Flagstaff. Mostly, she said, she goes in the opposite direction, to Kingman.

She said the day had been great.

“I felt really awesome,” she said. “I think it turned out pretty good (referring to her skateboard). It came out better than I suspected it would."

She said that she came up with random stuff to put on her board and afterward she added color.

Dawnae has painted before — she completed a painting for her arts teacher, which was hung up in the classroom. She said she liked painting.

“I think art is really awesome,” she said. “It’s really calming.”

While Dawnae doesn’t think of herself as much of an artist, she said that her dad is the artist in the family, she watches him and used some of that knowledge in her skateboard design.

“I like this place, it’s really big (referring to the museum),” she said.

Dawnae said others who want to participate should join in.

“Do what you want to do with your art, come see the museum,” she said. “I’m told that they have some of our (Supai) art in the museum here. I didn’t know that.”


Ellis-Ray Uqualla poses with Duane Koyawena, at the Museum of Northern Ariozna March 21. (Museum of Northern Arizona)

Ellis-Ray Uqualla, 10, said he has been out of the canyon to Flagstaff, Kingman and Laughlin before but had never been to the museum.

Ellis-Ray said he thought the day was pretty awesome. He is half-Hopi and his board reflected some symbols and designs of Hopi. He said his board and the colors he used reflected what was in his mind and he painted that.

Ellis-Ray described why painting felt good.

“It’s like showing your feelings,” Ellis-Ray said.

Holly Figueroa is a tribal services and cultural competency administrator for Steward Health Choice Arizona. She was with the students and the MNA for the workshop.

“Being part of Pivot was really instrumental in bringing that mental health component and really being able to process feelings and emotions and behaviors through art,” Figueroa said. “A lot of times young people don’t necessarily have the words to articulate what they’re feeling or what they’re wanting to say, so art is an outlet for that.”

Figueroa said letting the kids know that feelings and emotions are natural and letting the kids know they can ask for help are important parts of what she does, and what Pivot has done for the kids.

“Pivot has been a really good platform to have that piece,” she said. “It helped them understand that feelings and emotions are normal and natural and it’s ok. And reducing the stigma around mental health and mental illness is huge.”

The workshops create an opportunity to sit and talk about those issues openly much like people do with their physical health is good for the kids.

“Why don’t we talk about our mental health? Why don’t we promote positive mental health,” she asked. “Pivot has been a great opportunity to start those conversations with young people. Hopefully, they’re able to take some of that away and some of the skills and tools that we talk about in group and put some of that down on their boards.”

Figueroa said during the workshop, they talked about how to manage stress, how stress impacts young people. They acknowledged the kids’ feelings and that young people do stress out.

“It’s a really awesome opportunity to acknowledge young people and them know that they matter and we recognize that,”

Figueroa said. “And they do have a support system of people who are willing to understand and acknowledge and validate some of the feelings and experiences that they have whether they’re good or bad.”

Being part of a group helps the kids, Figueroa said, because then the kids know there are others who have gone through the same experience who they can reach out to.

“They can be support systems for each other,” she said.


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