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Member Assistance Program’s art therapy exhibit

‘Soothing’ activity for new members
New York Teacher
Man sitting next to table with 4 paintings
Jonathan Fickies

Andy Estevez, a teacher at PS 18 in Brooklyn, next to some of his art on display.

Woman holding a painting
Jonathan Fickies

Speech teacher Tamara Khan, who works in schools in District 30 in Queens, shows off her painting.

Woman holding a painting
Jonathan Fickies

Conny Ip, a math teacher at IS 227 in Brooklyn, displays her painting.

New members who participated in the UFT Member Assistance Program’s first-ever art therapy group displayed their work at a special gallery exhibition at UFT headquarters on May 9.

“The idea was for new members to get to try something fun and also therapeutic,” said Tina Puccio, the director of the Member Assistance Program. “It’s so gratifying to see how happy the participants are.”

Art therapy involves the use of creative techniques to help people express themselves. It can help them explore their emotions, improve their self-esteem, build self-awareness, manage addictions and relieve stress.

Keeshan DeFay, a social worker at PS 156 in Brooklyn with a background in art therapy, directed the group, which met for six sessions in March and April. It was such a success that MAP has planned more sessions for later in the spring.

Each week, DeFay invited attendees to use creative techniques, such as line drawings and collages, to express different themes. Participants created self-portraits, depicted storms and represented the contents of their hearts on canvas.

“It was an amazing opportunity to work with members to allow them to express how they feel through art,” DeFay said. “It was a nice outlet to release stress and help members feel more relaxed and calm.”

Tamara Khan, a first-year speech teacher in Queens’ District 30, said, “Everyone was so welcoming and nice. We don’t really get to socialize during the school day, and this was a good de-stressor.”

Participants considered the group a creative oasis.

“I don’t really know how to draw, but Keeshan told us that the most important thing is being able to express ourselves on the canvas,” said Anika Labossiere, a paraprofessional at the Riverview School in Long Island City, Queens. “My favorite part of the group was being able to share my work at the end of each session and talk about it. It brought me a lot of peace.”

Andy Estevez, a teacher at PS 18 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said the experience enabled him to relieve his day-to-day stress and anxiety. “Being able to create art was so soothing and relaxing,” he said. “There was a sense of trust and support. We became like a family.”