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Center Sponsors Creative Workshops for Women With Cancer

Center Sponsors Creative Workshops for Women With Cancer

NEW YORK—A strong belief in the healing power of creative activity spurred Geraldine Herbert to establish a place where women with cancer could go to express themselves through the visual, performing, literary, and domestic arts—The Creative Center for Women With Cancer, located in New York City.

“I was a social worker at Memorial Sloan-Kettering for 10 years in the bone marrow transplant service,” Ms. Herbert said in an interview with Oncology News International. “When I left to open a private psychotherapy practice, many of my clients were women with cancer. I found that there were many programs in which things were done ‘to’ or ‘for’ these women, but few that harnessed a more powerful resource—the women’s own creativity.”

Ms. Herbert, who at that time some 3½ years ago, was working on a doctoral dissertation, said that “one morning I simply woke up and realized I didn’t want to be writing about this anymore; I wanted to be doing something about it.”

Ms. Herbert abandoned her dissertation, and along with a friend, the late Adrienne S. Assail, opened the Creative Center. Ms. Assail, an attorney and cancer patient, had had a similar epiphany about the importance of creativity in healing the spirit after a cancer diagnosis, realizing she wanted to go back to her first love, song writing.

From the beginning, the Center has offered workshops in the arts free of charge to women diagnosed with cancer and their families and friends. Ms. Herbert stressed that no artistic skill or prior experience in the arts is necessary to attend the workshops.

The Center uses donated office space and the services of professional women artists, some of whom themselves have had a cancer diagnosis, who donate their time to lead the workshops. “We’ve just built on this concept ever since,” Ms. Herbert said. The donated space is now larger, and the Center offers workshops in such diverse activities as oil painting, watercolor, quilting, music, stained glass, poetry, collage, gardening, photography, cooking, sculpting, and filmmaking.

In November, for example, video-maker Philip Kraus, who is affiliated with Rhode Island Television, Providence, will set up a temporary video studio at the Center, so that women can create videos to tell their personal stories. Women are encouraged to bring artwork and artifacts to the studio to include in their video statements.

Art Exhibits

Another important focus of the Center is to organize exhibits of the work of professional women artists with cancer (see figure 1, figure 2 and figure 3 ).

“Bristol-Myers Squibb is going to give us a huge exhibit space at their headquarters in Princeton, NJ, in the spring, allowing us to show the works of seven or eight different artists,” Ms. Herbert said. On October 27, Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, NY, is opening its third one-woman show of an artist from the Center, in this case, Barbara White.

And for the first time, the Center is exhibiting artistic works created by women who have attended workshops. This exhibit, sponsored by the Junior League of Westchester, NY, will be held over the Columbus Day weekend at the Bedford Historical Hall, Westchester.

One of the Center’s goal is to acquire a large loft space so it can provide open studio space for works in progress. “Many women with a diagnosis of cancer really do want to get into some sort of creative aspect of themselves, and they don’t have the space to paint or sculpt, or the wherewithal to actually rent a studio,” she said.

Most of the workshops are held at the Center, which can generally accommodate about 10 participants. “We find that’s a good number because then everybody gets individual attention from the instructor,” she said. Other workshops are off-site, such as the printmaking workshops, which are held at a print-making atelier.

The Center also sponsors hands-on workshops at museums, as well as museum and gallery tours.

Funding comes from foundations, corporate grants, and individual donations, Dr. Herbert said. She is currently seeking funding for programs involving women with cancer and their children. “We would like to offer a mother-child workshop, and I’ve written a proposal for that.”

For more information about the center and its upcoming workshops, women may contact Ms. Herbert at 212-868-4766 or send a fax to 212-868-4765.

 
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