Spotlight On: Art Impact Project


Art Impact Project

On a recent afternoon, Neal Math and Science Academy middle school students gathered in a classroom to participate in Art Impact Project’s bi-weekly after-school art program, which is supported by North Chicago Community Partners. Some students came through the door excited to see what that day’s project was going to be; other (first-time attending) students hesitantly took seats toward the back of the room. It wasn’t until a short macro photography lesson was over, when founder Vickie Marasco handed each of them a camera (many for the first time), that those students let their guard down and their creativity flow.

Vickie Marasco started Art Impact Project in 2014 after having attended family therapy sessions with her son (who was recovering from substance abuse) and left with an idea of using her art background to support kids that are dealing with similar substance abuse and/or social and emotional issues. The concept was to use a 90-minute art-making session to help participants achieve emotional wellness and express and communicate aspects of themselves that may be too difficult to put into words.

After the first trial session with the kids at the substance abuse facility, the therapists commented that they said more during that art session then they do in their entire twelve hours of one-on-one therapy sessions. Vickie then knew that she had a real opportunity to make a difference.

Today, Art Impact Project serves teenagers, college-aged and adult populations at more than 10 on-site locations, collaborating with local schools both during the school day and after-school; non-profits such as behavioral health outpatient programs and addiction recovery halfway houses; and an adult corrections facility. And while these diverse groups present different dynamics, Art Impact Project always offers its projects in the same way—an open setting that encourages creativity and facilitates an outlet for emotions and a powerful and positive method to cope with stress and life challenges.
One of Art Impact Project’s signature projects, “Masks Inside Out,” has become a part of the freshman wellness curriculum at Lake Forest High School. During the mask project, students cut out words and pictures from magazines and use them to collage on a plain paper mask to show how they “see” themselves both on the inside and the outside. Beacon Place was instrumental in helping Art Impact Project deliver the same mask project to Waukegan High School, where it is now being conducted with all freshman students annually. This project helps the students recognize similarities and differences within each other, and it increases connections and understanding between them.

Art Impact Project also recently launched a “Sketchbook Project” as a creative outlet opportunity for program participants outside of the art sessions. The sketchbooks came about because participants kept bringing back scraps of artwork that they did outside of the sessions to share with Art Impact Project’s art advocates during the sessions. Now new participants are given a sketchbook to take with them. The back cover of the sketchbook has lists of community resources in Lake County such as Text-A-Tip and suicide hotlines; as well as counseling, addiction, domestic violence and parenting support services because these are many of the issues and hardships that Art Impact Project participants face in their daily lives.

Creative expression is the goal of every Art Impact Project session. But it is apparent that there is also a message or take-a-way posed during each project. At Neal Math and Science Academy, the students learned about macro photography and were encouraged to think about the composition of their shots. But, the take-a-way was how to look at something differently.By taking the time to focus up-and-close on the details and to look at the subject from a different angle, you may find beauty that was once unnoticed. This carries over to relationships at school and home between the students and their classmates, teachers and families. Find beauty in the details and respect and appreciate the noticed differences.
Art Impact Project Success Story: Vickie feels that it is difficult to measure outcomes and impact of Art Impact Project’s programming, stating that the people it serves are dealing with disorders, addictions and social/emotional health concerns that often do not result in positive outcomes—so therefore every spark of hope or understanding in someone’s eyes, art or reflections is a success.

Recently, there was a woman in residence at Nicasa’s Bridge House who was in and out of jail, trying to get clean from her heroin addiction. She did not want to engage during her first art session. Vickie was able to spend one-on-one time with her because there were other art advocates on site. The woman said that she didn’t think much of herself and didn’t feel that anyone else even notices her. Vickie encouraged her to start the project and put some positive images and words about herself on the art. Within 30 minutes the woman finished the project with words and images that reflected her strength and inner beauty. She transformed before Vickie’s eyes. Every session thereafter, the woman was engaged. She even wrote a poem about herself and her struggles. This woman came back to Bridge House, after she was finished with residential treatment, specifically to participate in Art Impact Project’s group sessions. While Vickie does not know the current status of that woman, she is hopeful that she remembers that people do think of her as a valuable human being and that she was able to find an outlet of expression and insight through the program.

Art Impact Project By the Numbers: 

Art Impact Project has been providing art programming
to adolescents and adults in Lake County since 2014
In 2018, more than 3200 high school freshman and
150 eight graders participated in
Art Impact’s mask project as part
of their schools’ wellness programs
Sketchbooks were passed out to
more than 100 participants in 2018
Art Impact Project delivers on-site mental/behavioral health art programming to participants at more than 10 Lake County partner locations Each month, Art Impact Project holds 12 art programming sessions

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