FSU Art Therapy international conference tackles pandemic-related mental health issues

“The Learning from COVID-19 Experiences Project” is where students and professionals can exchange techniques and methods for building resilience as well as showcase their artwork created during the pandemic.

Mental health issues are a continuing concern among youth and families, especially with the added stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s why Florida State University’s Art Therapy Program is bringing together art therapy professionals during the international conference, “The Learning from COVID-19 Experiences Project,” where they can exchange techniques and methods for building resilience as well as showcase their artwork created during the pandemic.

FSU Art Therapy partnered with the National Association for the Development of Art Therapy Science and Practice ‘Art Therapy Association’ of Russia to present the conference, which will unite mental health professionals, educators and students and provide a space for positive dialogue and networking opportunities.

“Engaging with art can release stress, build positive energy and support family and social connections,” said Barbara Parker-Bell, professor in the FSU Department of Art Education and director of the project. “Through this project, we hope to give families creative tools that will enhance their ability to bounce back from stress toward their valued life goals.”

The conference will include professional networking sessions and live and pre-recorded presentations that address art therapy methods and techniques professionals use to support youth and families through difficult times.


Starry Night
“Starry Night.” Stickers on Poster Board. By Michelle Chavez, Art Therapist, US.

Featured speakers include Liudmila Lebedeva, professor and vice-rector for Research and International Cooperation at Moscow’s Metropolitan Institute of Professional Education, and Robert A. Neimeyer, the director of the Portland Institute for Loss and Transition and psychology professor emeritus at the University of Memphis.

“In overcoming the long-term consequences of pandemic stress, the consolidation and exchange of experience of specialists from different countries is of particular importance,” Lebedeva said. “For the first time, this opportunity is being opened up by the unique project.”

Along with the professional conference, the public may also participate by attending exhibitions and art-making events.

Artwork and statements by American and Russian art therapy professionals that reflect on experiences and creative responses to the pandemic will be on display from Feb. 14 to March 10 at FSU’s William Johnston Building Gallery, as well in the cities of Volgograd and Samara in Russia. The project’s website will host a virtual exhibition beginning Feb. 3. Community members are invited to participate in the project’s art-making events at the William Johnston Building Gallery on Feb. 19 and March 5th.

“Woman with a Glass.” Acrylic paint on cardboard. By Ilya Kovalenko, Art Therapy Specialist, Russia.

“Summer.” Oil on canvas. By Oksana Purgina, Art Therapy Specialist, Russia.

“A Shell’s Journey” Magnetized Atlantic Ocean clam shells on magnetized board. By Girija Kaimal, Art Therapist, US

“While these professionals provided art therapy education or art therapy services during this challenging time, they also engaged in art-making,” Parker-Bell said. “Their artworks reflect upon pandemic losses, reduced social connectedness, altered home, teaching and therapy environments, but also reflect upon the joy of daily experiences, dreams for the future, and forged connections with nature.”

The conference is free and open to art therapists, mental health professionals, students of art therapy and mental health professions, educators and others who serve communities, families and youth around the world. Organizers expect participants from Belgium, Belarus, Cyprus, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Kazakhstan, India, Israel, Italy, Lithuania, Moldova, Norway, Romania, Qatar, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine.

“We believe that these events will elevate the profession of art therapy, expand positive Russian and United States dialogues and provide creative art-viewing and art-making opportunities to youth and families that will bolster their resilience during pandemic times,” Parker-Bell said.

The deadline to register for the conference is Thursday, Jan. 27.

To learn more about the project, please visit https://covidartlearning.fsu.edu/.


“Light in the Fog.” Watercolor on Paper. By Victoria Yaraslovova, Art Therapy Specialist, Russia

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