BA Thesis Project 

This is a synopsis of the ideation, planning, and execution of the Funk God (Laura Becker) thesis project for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Peck School of the Arts capstone in studio art and community art, May 2022. 

To tour the virtual gallery displaying Funk God's work from the 2022 BA studio class exhibition, visit here

BA exhibition.jpg


EXPLORING CREATIVE SELF-EXPRESSION
THROUGH MINDFUL COLLAGE

Exploring Creative Self-Expression Through Mindful Collage is a communal healing workshop with the purpose of introducing mindfulness practice through collage art as a method of awareness, self-expression, and connection with others through shared artmaking. The workshop provides an uplifting space for people to release inner stress, introduce healing practices, connect empathetically with others over shared experiences, and create unique artwork and self-reflection materials participants can take home with them to bring mindful awareness and creativity into their lives.

A Road More Funky

For my BA capstone in studio art, I wanted to do something different than just creating a portfolio of work which showed my artist thesis as a graduating art school senior.

Instead of the typical route of working within a studio class to do a deeper study of visual work, I chose to complete my senior thesis within a community art class, and design multiple artistic workshops to implement within the Milwaukee community. I wanted to encapsulate a full representation of my years of undergraduate studies within both the Letters and Sciences, and Art programs at university. Within liberal arts, I studied social sciences and psychology, and within the art school, graphic design, photography, and community art. In the spirit of funk, I designed my own unique experience for this project which accurately symbolizes the philosophy of my artistic, healing, and personal practice.

The results of this capstone are a thoroughly designed community workshop outline which can be attuned and adjusted for a wide variety of community demographics,

2 completed workshop experiences with documentation, a thesis paper about the restorative prosperities of mindfulness collage, and a portfolio of both digital and traditional collage works. 

Intention and Purpose

My intention with this project was to use my experience, knowledge, and skills in art and psychology to promote creative healing tools and the art of collage to give to my local community. I wanted to use my understanding of therapeutic concepts and passion for artistic self-awareness and expression to share what I have learned in my own life, to give others the same tools which have helped me on my healing journey. 

 

The purpose of the workshop was to introduce mindfulness practices, collage art, and other soothing expression methods, as a practice of awareness and communal healing. I wanted to inspire people to engage more deeply with mindfulness, art, or both as a tool for both processing and relaxation in their lives going forward. 

 

The workshop was meant as an introduction to, and concentrated dose of, clinical concepts I have learned in my therapy experiences, delivered in an informal and accessible community space. It was intended as a (non-clinical) blend of art therapy concepts, a support group, and a positive community gathering in a celebration of

art-making post-COVID. I wanted to provide an opportunity for people to come together out of loneliness, make some art, practice mindfulness, and learn about additional psychological resources related to mindfulness practice. 

Methods and Structure 

With my lofty goal of sneaking in as many healing concepts as possible into a free, fun, community art workshop, I designed a unique structure for the workshop which allowed for a balanced and flowing 2.5 hour experience. The itinerary included self-check-in journal sheets, a mindfulness lecture, guided meditations, collage making, and a group sharing/show and tell time. The workshop offered a space for multiple forms of healthy self-expression; artistic, through collage-making, written, through mindful journaling, and verbal, through group sharing and dialogue. 

Although the collaging activity was the primary focus, I was able to inject supporting forms of mindful self-expression, and touch on several important mindfulness and psychological concepts related to my Funk God philosophy of organizing chaos. 

To keep the workshop palatable to diverse audiences, I kept my preaching about the gospel of funk and healing concepts to 15 minutes, and gave participants a Resources sheet with concept definitions, extra healing concepts to consider, and examples of practical mindfulness applications I have developed in my personal life.

Collage Methods

I showed participants examples of 5 different self-expressionistic collage methods by following my own workshop structure of self-check-in sheets and meditations and created my own collages for the senior exhibition. The 3 methods I discussed were:

1. Subconscious and Intuitive

2. Intentional Processing

3. Vision Board 

Each method allowed for freedom of expression but provided different ways to interpret the idea of "mindful self-expression through collage." These methods were somewhat based off art therapy techniques, but also from my own experience of turning to collage as a safe place for processing traumatic pain and healing. While researching Mindfulness-Based Art Therapy I was thrilled to find professional analysis of the symbolism of collage-making and healing that I had developed intuitively.

 

All methods involve participants searching for fragmented materials (chaos) that they are either consciously, or unconsciously drawn to, organizing materials into a composition that reflects them (a portrait either abstract or representational), creating and destroying materials through cutting, tearing, gluing (restorative and self-assertive process), and  arranging materials in a final design that expresses them either holistically, or specifically (organizing their chaos.) 

The symbolic links between fragmented chaos of materials and of The Self, intuition, expression, ordering chaos, awareness, reflection, and the effects of trauma are evident in the therapeutic process. The accessible medium of collage for non-artists combined with the plethora of potential for non-verbal language in visual collage art is both why I initially turned to collage in my past trauma, and why I chose it as the perfect activity for this workshop. Learning that there is an entire treatment modality dedicated to mindfulness collage in art therapy reified my intuition and passion for collage as a healing method. 

Self-Check-In Sheets: Mindful Journaling

To make the workshop, depending on how you look at it, even more tedious, or holistic,

I formulated 3 different self-check-in sheets. 1 to fill out at the beginning of the workshop before doing anything, 1 at the end after making the collage, and 1 to take home to fill out whenever one felt like or bothered to do it. The purpose of the self-check-in-sheets were to introduce the therapeutic concept of journaling to express self-reflective thoughts, and the mindfulness concept of self-awareness.

 

Each sheet asked a set of questions which prompted participants to become aware of their thoughts, emotions, bodies, intentions, and motivations. Across all 3 sheets, the questions remained worded the same, altered only to later include awareness of collage, and mindfulness, once they had completed the activities. The repetition was deliberate so that neural pathway formation might occur from multiple exposures to the concept of being attuned to one's experience in the present moment.

 

The home sheet was included to encourage bringing mindfulness into one's real life, after the workshop was over. The wisdom of how vital it is to provide straightforward "homework" for long-term healing comes from my many experiences in individual and group therapy, where one feels alright in the session, but later feels lost when returned to their natural environment. I recognized that the material of the workshop might be more effective if participants were guided to repeat mindful awareness journaling at home after some time had passed, reminding them of the practice. 

The inspiration for including the self-check-in sheets came from my first true love; writing, and expressing oneself through the written word. It would have been unromantic of me not to involve some writing activity in my thesis project, especially since my intended college major was originally English. The journaling activity was also a useful way to introduce (there's a lot of introducing in this workshop) what are in my opinion, the 5 crucial things one must always be mindful of; motivations, thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and intentions for the future. It was also partly based on Jordan Peterson's Self-Authoring Program where deliberate and intentional journaling guides clearer thinking and growth into the future. 

Mindfulness, Meditation, DBT

I wanted the group to feel like accepted members of a communal space where it was secure to share themselves and what they were experiencing in their lives. I gave a notice at the beginning of the workshop that the process might be sensitive or triggering of things, and we discussed group expectations for sharing a positive, respectful experience together. 

 

While I was not able to include every psychological concept that might pertain to mindfulness, I discussed my personal mindfulness philosophy in a 15 minute lecture where I explained the fundamentals of mindfulness from a DBT context, discussing radical acceptance, intentionality, awareness, chaos and order, grounding, and meditation. I led a 1 minute Body-Scan meditation before beginning the collaging,

and a 1 minute Loving-Kindness meditation to conclude the workshop. Although my perspective on mindfulness comes from a DBT background, I integrated clinical concepts with spiritual mindfulness concepts to that they might be applicable to anyone from any background, culture, or belief system. 

I chose a Body-Scan meditation for the beginning to release tensions, relax the body, and loosen up for the preceding activities to encourage calm, vulnerable, and

stress-reduced art-making. I chose a Loving-Kindness meditation for the end to close the experience with a warm, full, and hopeful heart and spirit as participants left. 

I also led a daisy-chain group sharing where everyone shared 2 things they noticed about their collage and self, and other participants were encouraged to comment on how they related, reacted to, or understood the maker through the visual and verbal vulnerability. 

Community Organizing 

The most difficult aspect of this project was securing a community partner to host the events. Both locations I had in mind did not come to fruition and I had to scout for additional organizations which would be interested in hosting the event. 

This task was made more difficult because I wanted to host a workshop only for adults, while most organizations and accessible groups of people exist in the form of youth centers or schools. While I did design a self-check-in sheet for kids, it was important to me to share this concept for adults because people are often neglected in being given healing resources and support once they reach adulthood. I also wanted to provide as deep a synthesis of my personal experiences as possible, which are mature and adult.

It took 2 months but I was able to host 1 workshop at The Lyndon Sculpture Garden, and 1 at the Mindfulness Community of Milwaukee. It was a new learning experience for me to navigate community organizing in the world of art non-profits. 

Workshop 1: Lyndon Sculpture Garden

The first workshop was hosted at the Lynden Sculpture Garden in Brown Deer, WI. Despite the snow storm as per WI weather, the group was fully engaged and enthusiastic about collaging and mindfulness practice. Most members had their own mindfulness practice, or at leas their own collage practice, but one person said they had never done collage before and wanted to learn more about mindfulness.

 

During the collaging we as a group discussed precisely the issues which had driven me to create the experience; loneliness, difficulty connecting ,and processing life experiences, transitions, and trauma through collage art. We exchanged authentic struggles throughout our lives while sharing creative and healing resources we had discovered. One person introduced the concept of "soul collage", creating a Tarot-like deck of cards from collage to symbolize personal ideas to the creator to use as reference during times of contemplation.. We shared art-therapy resources in the community such as open-studio workshops and art therapist practices. 

The group was receptive to the guidelines set up for compassionate listening and making the activities feel more collective healing than just making art together. We shared our artistic ups and downs in the collage process and had discussion of our finished collage pieces, sharing what we were expressing through the imagery. Several people brought their own creativity to the project, 1 participant choosing to collage in her Covid Pandemic journal from home, and another cutting the railroad board into smaller pieces because she preferred to work on a smaller scale. At the end, participants chose to write a list of their contact information so that we could keep in touch about future art events and socializing, and asked when I would host another workshop so they could come again! 

I was ecstatic to see that this workshop was embraced by the community and that it served its purpose as a healing and uplifting space to come together and make some collage art and connections. Nothing solidified the workshop as a success more than seeing how people requested me to host it again, and how everyone shared their names and numbers for future connection. I made a group text to thank everyone again for coming, and see if anyone wanted to have a group healing art or chat further.

Workshop 2: Mindfulness Community of Milwaukee

The second workshop was hosted at the Milwaukee Mindfulness Community of Milwaukee Center. This space was unique in that it was created for mindfulness practice, and the audience was already familiar with the concepts. I was initially concerned that I be a layman among experienced mindfulness practitioners, but I had nothing to worry about, as the group welcomed a diverse range of beliefs and individual philosophies, including mine. With a group of 8 people, we were able to achieve an intimate and vulnerable atmosphere for the activities. As an unexpected guest, a 14 year old girl joined the a group, a daughter of a long-time mindfulness center member. I was concerned this would disrupt the adult group's flow, but her energy was peaceful and the older members welcomed her presence. 

 

This group took a longer time to get started, partially because they were all so mindful about filling in the self-check-in sheets and taking time to ground. Throughout the experience, everyone was kind, thoughtful, and brought a positive energy to the group as a whole. I was highly impressed with the creativity of the collages from every individual, as each person adapted the methods I offered and used them to suit their own creativity. Each person put meaning into their work, and this contemplation and curiosity was collective when shared at the end. Several people said they were surprised at what came up or out during the collage process, a sign to me to the process was working exactly as intended. People noted how the imagery they found in the magazines triggered something inside to start manifesting, the purpose of the Subconscious and Intuitive method. I was particularity moved by one woman's sharing of her collage when she tearfully explained the pain she was processing from her Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and how the collage was cathartic for her. 

What stood out most to me from this experience was the affirmation I received as an art healer and the encouragement the group gave me at how grateful they were for the experience. Many people said that I would make an amazing art therapist and patients would "adore" me. I created the workshop as a community service and way to apply to  my passions, but I didn't expect to feel so loved and appreciated as an individual. I received an email a day after the workshop from a grateful participant thanking me and inviting me to an opera. It warmed my heart and brought me peace to feel that others felt appreciated and loved in the workshop space because of my energy. Having a core wound of feeling unlovable, it was healing to be bestowed with praise and affection for my insights, kindness, and creativity. Several members hung their collages on the Center bulletin board to display their work in the community. 

Concluding Thoughts

After leading both workshops, several hypotheses were confirmed;

 

1. That the community has a need, interest, and market for mindful collage practice and this is a valuable service to offer to a variety of populations.

2. That mindful collage can have positive effects on adult participants such as cultivating awareness, self-reflection, gratitude, belonging, acceptance, loving-kindness, deeper interest in mindfulness practice, deeper interest in collage, creativity, and inner resilience.

3. That I have the ability to curate a sacred space for creative healing, successfully organize a community event, and help connect others to each other and myself in a positive and meaningful way. 

I have known for years the healing power of mindful collage art in my own practice, but I was not certain that others would find it helpful, interesting, or that I would be able to communicate and translate properly my experiences into a formal healing workshop. After executing 6 hours of mindful collage workshops, I now feel confident and optimistic that this experience is worthwhile, appreciated, and can be hosted again in the future.

I found that all elements of the workshop were positively received by participants, including my philosophical lecture, self-check-in sheets, the meditations, the 3 different forms of mindful collage, creating, sharing, and giving out the extra resource sheets and home journaling sheets. It is not often when everything goes according to plan and nothing needs to be edited out, but every step of the workshop was welcomed and contributed to the positive outcome for participants and myself. 

The only thing I will change in the future is increasing the time from 2.5 hours to 3 full hours, so allow for more sharing time. Both groups concluded that they could collage all day, so adding an extra 30 minutes to assure adequate time would be reasonable.

I also assess that while ideal for adults of all ages, that this workshop could also benefit teenagers and that it would be appropriate to lead family-friendly versions or

teen-specific groups. I believe child-based mindfulness collage activities could also be helpful, but that the full workshop experience would be too intensive for young children. 

Another unexpected idea which came in the aftermath of both workshops was the concept of having a mindfulness collage group email or social media page where participants could extend the connections and positivity fostered in the workshop into other spaces. A mindfulness collage social media page could allow people to share events related to healing art and track whenever I might be hosting another workshop.

It could also be a supportive local community to share other resources, build friendships based in health and wellness, and for other people to discover the experience and join a workshop. It could be a useful way to share my other work, and because many of the participants are creatively and psychologically knowledgeable, they could also share their art, projects, or services. It would be a helpful resource for those interested in art therapy and could possibly bridge with other healing arts in the Milwaukee community. 

Creating this workshop also helped give me confidence in other ways, such as applying for and being offered a job as an experiential art therapist at a psychiatric hospital upon graduation with my BA. While mindful collage is only one form of expression and one healing tool, its universality and accessibility lends itself as a therapeutic aid for almost any distressing condition imaginable, and will continue to be my favorite way of ordering my own chaos and explaining the philosophies of Funk God to others who might benefit from them.