Breast cancer project built around idea that art heals

The premise of the Lawrence Arts Center's "Healing through the Arts" breast cancer awareness project is inherent in its name.

"A lot of people who don't think they're artists need to understand you don't have to be an artist to have art heal you," says Kathy Tate, a breast cancer survivor and co-organizer of the project.

Tate found out she was ill April 21, 2003, after a routine mammogram. She underwent chemotherapy, a lumpectomy, node removal, radiation and a radical hysterectomy. During the whirlwind emotional experience, she depended on color and sound to soothe her.

"Even if you just splash paint onto a piece of paper, it's good for you," says Tate, a Douglas County Sheriff's spokeswoman. "You don't have to make something to show to somebody else. Whether it's music or painting or drawing or writing -- there are some things that you need to get out of your system, and art is a great way to do it."

The month-long "Healing through the Arts," scheduled in conjunction with Breast Cancer Awareness Month, will include community workshops, a multimedia performance and an art exhibition that opens Monday at the arts center, 940 N.H. A portion of proceeds from the performance, workshops and art sales will benefit Breast Cancer Action.

Among the workshop presenters will be Kansas City artist Shifra Stein, who has based a career on her belief in art's power to heal. In addition to creating artwork that reflects that belief, she also conducts workshops that teach others how to harness the healing power of color. She'll offer such a workshop Saturday at the arts center.

After being hospitalized for severe depression in the mid-1990s, Stein discovered paint as a means of communication.

"I went into an art therapy 'playshop,' and I started playing with color. And I started feeling better," she recalls. "I couldn't communicate. I couldn't write my feelings, but I could paint them."

She'll share research that connects color choices with human health and well-being and lead participants through painting, journal writing, creativity and relaxation exercises to stimulate the imagination, relieve stress and promote health.

Other artists, including Lawrence writer Caryn Mirriam-Goldberg, choreographer Candi Baker, musician Kelley Hunt and visual artist Cathy Ledeker, will demonstrate the healing power of their respective arts.

Additionally, Baker, who until recently was artistic director of the Prairie Wind Dancers, is collaborating with Mirriam-Goldberg and Hunt to create a multimedia performance that will be staged Oct. 22-23. Audiences who attended Prairie Wind's New Works Concert in the spring saw an in-progress preview of the show, which has been expanded for the October performance.

"I'm five years away from my experience with breast cancer," says Baker, dance program director at the arts center. "As I was looking at our New Works Concert and thinking about what I wanted to choreograph, I felt like now was the time to look at my breast cancer experience through my art form."

Baker's diagnosis came in February of 1999. She was 53, and though her cancer was in an early stage, she underwent a mastectomy. Being able to return to her choreography work at the arts center helped her cope with her illness. But creating a dance ABOUT her experience was different.

"I was afraid to deal with it in my art because I didn't want to capitalize on my experience, and I didn't want to trivialize my experience," Baker says. "It's hard to have something that significant happen to you and try to deal with it in a way you're going to put in front of a bunch of people."

"That was very cathartic for me -- much more than I expected," she says. "All of a sudden, emotions were coming back, and I realized that there were some unresolved issues. And I don't feel like I have them anymore. It just really feels empowering to do this and to be part of this."

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