The arts have the power to transform and heal

Mary Ellen - Erie, Pennsylvania
Entered on April 4, 2008

This I believe: The arts have the power to transform and heal

My favorite subjects as a Mercyhurst College student in the 70’s were the liberal arts. Over time, they have become my life mantra. Ah, the joy of reaching into the complexity of another time and place . . . of discovering diverse cultures with amazing customs and language . . . of unearthing universal truths that connect humanity across boundaries! Mercyhurst and my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania continue to transform my personal life through the arts. My husband and I frequent our regional performing arts venues two and three times a week for thought-provoking lectures, films, world and classical music, art exhibits, dance performances and live opera from the Met over high definition satellite. The joy is endless!

Most surprising is how the liberal arts have transformed my professional life.

As the director of adult and graduate programs at Mercyhurst College from 1992 to 2002, I advised adults who wanted to begin or complete degrees. For adult applicants, the extensive curriculum of any college or university evokes the inevitable question: “Why must I take liberal arts classes when it’s the major courses I need for the job, for the promotion, for getting on with life.” After a term or two, these students glow about how much they enjoy the liberal arts and the fascinating ways their lives are subsqeuntly being transformed.

One business man told me that a literature course saved his marriage. He and his wife were finally relating authentically, sharing ideas, core values, and dreams. I remember a welder who was assigned to interview Mother Eustace Taylor and write an essay for College Writing I. He could hardly wait to tell me how deeply he was affected by her oral history of Catherine McCauley and the courageous, determined Sisters of Mercy who left Dublin to build a college in the new world. He changed his major to English and graduated magna cum laude. And then there was a machinist who, because knew his company was closing, began taking business courses in anticipation of a looming job search. But something else grabbed his mind and his heart. He aced every liberal arts course he took, changed his major to Philosophy, graduated with honors and went on to earn a masters degree. He then made Mercyhurst College his permanent home as an administrator in the library.

Healing often accompanies transformation through the liberal arts.

At Stairways Behavioral Health where I now work in Erie, we sponsor a Center for Arts and Humanities. At our outpatient clinic we diagnose mental illness, administer medication and provide talk therapy. But at our Center for Arts and Humanities, persons recovering from mental illness gather in our studio with staff, professional artists and community members to draw, paint, fuse glass, sculpt, write stories and poems, sing, garden and learn print-making. We focus on being together and encouraging each other in the creative process. Each person discovers the artist inside. Individuals, who are non-verbal, transform into mentors for others through the unique sharing of the artistic experience. Self-confidence grows; our common humanity connects; mental wellness abounds. We heal. Ah, the power of the arts!