Painting from The Art of Relationships

Painting from The Art of Relationships


This fall, Upstream Arts has been honored to collaborate with Opportunity Partners and health educator Katie Thune to offer The Art of Relationships, a brand new all-women program exploring sexual health, self-advocacy, and positive relationships.

Here is a staggering statistic: Nearly 90% of women with disabilities experience sexual assault in their lifetime, most before the age of 30. Yet these same women often do not have access to basic information about sex and safe, healthy relationships. In response, with amazing support from the WCA Foundation, we have designed The Art of Relationships as a safe space where participants can navigate this important terrain. The experience has been profound. We will be sharing more about this program in our January e-newsletter, with further context about its origins and stories from participants. In the meantime, though, we wanted to give you a brief preview of the amazing work that has been happening.

All current participants in The Art of Relationships are women with developmental disabilities and/or traumatic brain injuries. The first half of each session is led by the health educator, Katie, and focuses on the essentials of sex education. The second half of each session, led by Upstream Arts, allows participants to unpack what they are learning, processing their emotions and practicing self-advocacy through poetry, painting, music, dance, and scenario work.

As in all Upstream Arts programs, this class uses the arts to unlock the powerful tools of self-advocacy – tools that, if not taught, will not be used. Tools that take practice. Tools that, we are discovering, are too often never imparted to those that need them the most.


Today We Stay in Healthy Relationships

Trust in respect
Respect my boundaries
Share my wishes
Eat fresh on the relationship rollercoaster
Just sit on a bench at the lake
A green peace, like dolphins jumping
Like pizza popping on a cold day
Don’t kiss me if I don’t want it
Just put your arm around me
A loving way in this moment in time
It changes.
Look at me. Listen. Talk.
Take care of yourself.
Do I feel comfortable? Do I feel safe?
Ask questions.
Can we work this out?
Ground myself and stick to it.

– Poem written collaboratively by Art of Relationships participants, November 2014


While we know many factors beyond these women’s control contribute to that drastic statistic mentioned above, we aim to empower them to make informed choices about those factors that are within their control, with the goal of increasing self-sufficiency and decreasing risk of abuse and negative health outcomes.

We’re proud of all the work we do at Upstream Arts, but The Art of Relationships has been striking an especially tremendous chord. This fall is only the tip of the iceberg. We look forward to continuing and expanding our offerings in The Art of the Relationships (including adding a class specifically for men) in the new year. Stay tuned for updates in January.