Art inherently offers multiple languages and mediums to explore self-expression, self-identity, and self-awareness. Our curriculum offers the choice to explore social interactions from as many different angles as possible. How many different ways can we have a conversation? We can do it through words, through movement, through paint, and through rhythm. Each time we practice a different creative language, we practice listening, observing, and responding to what is happening in front of us as we paint, move, converse, drum, and write. We follow up these practices by pointing out how we do these things in much the same way in our daily interactions.
The essence of an Upstream Arts class is about practicing how to connect and relate, in small moments, through creative interactions. By learning and practicing elements of dance, we examine social boundaries and learn that body language is a form of communication. Through music we explore the rhythm of a conversation and how tone conveys emotion. We use theatre to recognize and use nonverbal social cues to express needs and wants. Through the many ways that we practice mirroring each other (through movement, sound, and rhythm), we learn how to listen and observe with our whole selves and gather information about the person in front of us, increasing our sense of empathy.
Social skills are at their base a conversation, a dialogue, an exchange. It’s about expressing yourself to someone else, listening for a response, and continuing the pattern. Art is also a dialogue. You put an expression of your self into the world, and there is a response. Exploration of expression with a sense of creativity helps us to discover and name who it is that we are and what we need and want. We need to understand ourselves, our strengths, our fractures, to best build healthy relationships and engage in community life.
Our evaluations show that through these practices individuals with disabilities increase attention spans, learn new ways to self-regulate and self-advocate, have an increased willingness to participate with and in front of others, and discover a confidence in taking risks.
As full participants in our residencies, educators and support staff are challenged to think creatively about how to provide support in a way that honors the opinions and life choices of the individuals we support.
The arts allow our participants to express their uniqueness beyond the categories they have been put under, beyond any seeming deficits of language, and beyond the naming of their abilities or disabilities. In the arts disability is just one more unique aspect of self. Art starts from the premise that everyone is unique and has something to share.
In math there are a set of rules, that once mastered produce the correct results. Art also has a set of rules that once mastered produce infinite results. Through experiencing the breadth of possibilities of expression participants in our residencies become better at choosing for themselves how they want their own story to be told.