—Arshia Simkin, The Underline
Natalia Torres del Valle’s passion for finding healing in the arts is longstanding: “Art definitely saved me as a teenager,” Del Valle said. “When I started playing music, especially in a group, that definitely increased my confidence and I also felt community in that, and felt seen by my peers…Just having a space to be creative helped me get through all the hard stuff that teens go through every day.” Del Valle is a local Hillsborough artist who makes strikingly textural paintings, a teacher, and a registered expressive arts therapist who leads a twice monthly arts-based group therapy session for LGBTQIA+ identifying teens.
The sessions take place every first and third Tuesday of the month at the Eno Arts Mill in Hillsborough and used to be offered on a sliding scale; now they are free thanks to a grant by an anonymous donor made to the Orange County Arts Alliance, the nonprofit partner of the Orange County Arts Commission. The sessions are confidential and open to teens from ages thirteen to eighteen (although parents of children younger than thirteen can contact Del Valle to inquire about the fit of the program for their child.)
The program has been operating since last April and the format is drop in (with a pre-registration form). The program has a group of regulars and now that this year’s sessions are underway, Del Valle is excited to see growing interest in the program: “I feel really encouraged that kids are feeling supported enough by the group that they’re inviting their friends to come,” she said.
Del Valle’s favors the group therapy format because of its potential for community building: “I see clients privately because I wanted to offer this group experience because being part of a community that you feel aligned with is so healing is in itself.”
According to the program website, “Sessions begin with a grounding exercise, an art exploration centered on a theme decided by the group, and end with group processing.”
The program isn’t limited to the visual arts; all art forms are encouraged, including music, writing, movement, and drama. “We’ve had kids bring in their guitar…whatever art form you connect with is welcome,” Del Valle said. Participants are also welcome to “float between the modalities” and the therapy is “process-oriented rather than product oriented”—so there’s no pressure to finish a given piece of art or to have a polished end-product. As a result of this process-based focus, participants are encouraged to use art materials in unconventional ways if they find that healing: Del Valle said she’s noticed a lot of “kinesthetic release—a lot of splatting things or ripping canvas apart or mixing paint with the wet clay.” Del Valle noted that “the art provides a centering aspect to talk about those difficult things that maybe they’ve experienced in the couple weeks between our meetings.” School, and all the attendant stressors that come with school, are a big topic in the sessions according to Del Valle. She noted that “teens are going through so many things that are out of their control and this is a space where they can control what they make.” Del Valle added: “Collaboration happens all the time, which is really great—adding to one another’s art work, or even just verbal collaboration of adding ideas to one another’s work just kind of happens naturally.”
Del Valle concluded, “It’s just a really, really positive group and it’s a group where you can share really difficult things and be supported by your peers too.”
- Find out more about the Teen Arts Collective: LGBTQIA+ at https://www.nataliatorresdelvalle.com/teen-arts-collective-lgbtqia
- The Teen Arts Collective accepts donated arts supplies; email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more or to donate.