This is an area in which I’d like to highlight some of my favourite experiences both locally and globally.

I have been granted permission to use the content in this section by the individuals concerned. Where appropriate, names have been changed to ensure confidentiality.

World Mental Health Day 2014 & 2015

In conjunction with Mind in Sheffield and in celebration of World Mental Health Day Artling were invited to run some art therapy taster sessions in the Winter Garden in Sheffield town centre. We kept the themes very loose and invited the general public to sit down and get involved. We had some fantastic feedback both years and this year I was invited to speak on BBC Sheffield whilst the event was running.









Community Art Project, Havana, Cuba 2006

This extract gives some background history as to why Artling was founded to promote art therapy in the UK.

In 2006 Katya Sommer received an alumni award through Christie’s education whilst training at Goldsmiths University, London. (

The funding helped further knowledge of art therapy in Cuba and shed some light on how cultural differences play a key role when providing support.

Prior to leaving London Katya teamed up with Zuzanna Krnacova, a Slovakian art therapist. Although unable to work as art therapists, being only two-thirds through their training, they were able to work as community based artists.

The team took their experience and knowledge from group work to a different culture with the help of a Cuban facilitator. Their facilitator was Esther Cardoso, who is an established Cuban film and theatre actress, producer, director and educator. She currently runs a permanent research workshop on the art of the actor at the Gaia Art Center which is based in Havana.

It was essential that the project was in collaboration with Cuban artists and mental health practitioners due to there not being a ‘recognised’ profession of Cuban art therapists at that time. Regardless of this lack of a recognized profession, both British trained art therapists were keen to see how established art therapy was in Havana and the differences in its practice to that in England.

Art therapy started to emerge as a recognized profession in the UK in 1964 when the British Association of Art Therapists (BAAT) was created; however it was not until 1982 that the NHS allocated the profession a pay structure. Ten years later (1992) art therapy acquired state registration through the Health Profession Council, making it a relatively ‘new’ profession in the UK.

Although art therapy has been practised in the UK now for many years we found that very few people here really understand how it works so we were curious to see if the Cuban perception of art therapy was different. We also wanted to see just how it was incorporated into the Cuban Health System.

Prior to running the workshops the team researched the use of art therapy in Havana. The first place they visited was a community mental health centre ran by Cuban psychiatrist Dr. Ernesto Marzoa. In this centre they were embarking on a one-year pilot art therapy project for selected youth and adult populations who were at risk due to mental health problems.

The next project visited was an art therapy group with children located in a video club in the Buenavista neighborhood. All the children in the group were referred by the headmaster from the local school and were experiencing problems of violence at home.

Another project explored was a mental health community hospital where local artists ran art sessions with adult patients based in the hospital. The sessions were run every Friday for an hour and half in a building within the hospital which provided a separate protected working space for the process. In the sessions they made maracas (musical instruments), straw hats, book markers and lots of other objects which were produced to sell. The profit goes towards new materials for making more art and towards improving their environment in the hospital. Interestingly enough this working process used to happen in many mental health hospitals in the UK. However tighter budgets made this a luxury and not an integral and important part of a care plan so it was refreshing to see it happening here.

The space used for our funded project was located in a community centre in Vedado, an up and coming suburb of Havana, in the neighbourhood of the families of the children who would attend the workshops. Eleven children (of mixed sexes, ages and ethnicities) participated in the four day workshop which explored the use of all the senses through art making. Internal and external worlds were explored with the use of drama, music, dance, a body artist and simple games. Although trained in observing non-verbal communication a translator was required. One of the educational aspects for the children was learning English. We provided colourful visual language booklets in Spanish and English as well as diaries which were well received by the children.

The project was a great achievement for us considering our language barrier, the fact that neither of us had visited Cuba before and that it was very difficult to do any research prior to leaving the UK. Lack of access to the internet and information in the country, coupled with the lack of resources is also frustrating for Cubans who wish to work and study abroad.

None of the people who ran the groups and projects we visited were formally trained in art psychotherapy. In Margaret Hills’ thesis (An inquiry into the relationship between the visual arts and psychotherapy in post revolutionary Cuba, Queen Margaret University, 2006) she suggests that the roots of art therapy in Cuba are located in three areas: that of artists working therapeutically in a community, artists who work as a part of the team in health care settings and finally psychologists who are exploring art as a medium with clients. From our experiences we found this to be the case.

In comparision to the UK, the limited amount of published material on the relationship between art and psychology in terms of application and practice in Cuba provides evidence of the lack of practicing art therapists. However with the introduction of a Psychology of Art course at the University of Havana it will be interesting to see what happens in the future.

Where cultural and racial differences are concerned, as white Westerners, we did not experience any issues running the workshop or visiting other projects.

Margaret Hills suggests that in Cuba there is considerable evidence to indicate that race informed where individuals were placed on the economic and social scale, where they worked and what they did. She goes on to provide evidence to back this statement from Ortiz (1940)

Ortiz points out that the two crops give rise to two very different types of social and economic conditions tobacco is grown on a small scale, usually by one family, using few or no machines, and requiring continual care throughout the year. Conversely, sugar production is highly centralized, mechanized and depersonalized. Tobacco is one of the few vestiges of the original island culture, whereas sugar is imported and stands for foreignness; it is the agricultural equivalent of empire.

(Ortiz, 1940:103)

Wherever we went and whatever their race, Cuban people greeted us with warmth and enthusiasm free from animosity or resentment. However it is important to remember that we were only in Cuba for three weeks and we were there providing a service. If we had longer we would have liked to have been able to consider this evidence in more depth.

For more information on this project contact