Playhouse, Boys & Girls Club Strengthen Youth Mental Health Through Art


By Barbara McMurray

Special to the Laguna Beach Independent

Three workshops held at the Teen Center at Boy & Girls Club of Santa Ana allowed youth to explore the fine arts as a means of self-expression and mental well-being. The Laguna Playhouse’s Our Stories workshops established a safe, relaxing environment for students to discuss mental health topics with mentor professionals. 

Students were provided materials and guidance on acrylic painting, sculpture design, and anime. The goal is to empower students to access their artistic aptitude and process their emotions and life events. 

“The Laguna Playhouse workshop made me learn new things I could not do in the past. The painting session helped me to temporarily forget stressful things in real life and focus on the activity,” said MJ Gallardo, a ninth grader who participated in the workshops. 

The American Art Therapy Association reported recently on the benefits of artistic expression and its positive impact on decreasing anxiety, feelings of anger, and depression. 

In 2020, the Laguna Playhouse received a grant from Bank of America for the Our Stories program, which was forced to transition to a virtual model because of a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The Playhouses program aims to teach healthy coping mechanisms, support social, emotional, cognitive, and academic development. The program was funded by Orange County Health Care Agency, Mental Health and Recovery Services, the Office of Suicide Prevention, and the Mental Health Services Act/Prop. 63.

“It was our pleasure to partner with the Boys & Girls Club Teen Center,” Laguna Playhouse community outreach manager Erin OFlaherty said. “Our goal was to engage with this age demographic to help them use arts platforms as an outlet for peace and empowerment. They were encouraged to use their creativity to share themselves in ways they perhaps never have.”

“There were a couple of girls who were very quiet and didn’t know each other,” OFlaherty added. “As they painted with acrylic on canvas, they began feeling more comfortable. By the end of the workshop, they were clearly having fun and ended up painting each other’s faces and taking pictures to share on their social media. It was very organic and pure.”

Workshop leaders were pleased to observe students overcome their shyness to interact with one another, and feel good about themselves. 

“The event makes you feel relaxed because you can explore your creativity. I learned that it does not matter what way you start painting, but it always ends up being pretty,” Eleventh grader Kimberly Oliveros said.



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