In October of 2011, an earthquake hit the Van area of Turkey. More than 530 people were killed, and 2,300 were injured. It’s impossible to know the emotional toll of the disaster on survivors — many of whom are children.
The Van Art Project arose from the devastation — a volunteer-based effort designed to address the psychological needs of women and children in the earthquake’s aftermath.

Led by Istanbul-born art therapist Leyla Acka, the first Van Art Project offered daily directive-based groups that focused on therapeutic art-making and psycho-education during one week in July, 2012.

The Van Art Project returned to Turkey this July with the goal of promoting resiliency and providing participants with a sense of safety and stabilization to help them cope with their everyday lives. The Foundation for Art & Healing was pleased to have provided funding in support of the project’s 2013 effort.

Leyla sent a photo-illustrated account of the 2013 project to Foundation for Art & Healing’s founder and president, Dr. Jeremy Nobel, excerpts of which we share below.


The four Van Art Project therapists facilitated five workshops a day — four with children and one with women. During the first day, the idea of safety and a safe place was provided with the canvas bags activity. We explored what we carry with us literally and metaphorically. Children were given canvas bags to decorate with fabric markers and felt.

1a 1e
1c 1d

Day two’s theme in our week of compassion and connection workshops was about group strengths: Identifying individual strengths and bringing them together as a community. The first activity was to identify a strength that the children had… then to create a mandala puzzle piece inspired by that strength. The children’s groups included themes of care taking, cleaning, sports, dancing, singing.

1b 2a
2b 2c

The third day consisted of a theme of self expression, encouraging participants to extend compassion to themselves by creating a metaphoric object that could represent the “self” in some way and allow for care-taking and compassion through the art making for that object. For children we used the metaphor of animals and for the women we used the metaphor of wish dolls.

3b 3c
3d 3e

The final day’s theme was termination, and we processed with each group our leaving and the meaning it held for them. We introduced journals as a way to hold their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and memories. Then we invited them to trace each other’s hands and then decorate each as one to give and one to take something from group. After they cut them out we had them place the one they are giving in a circle around a vase of pipe cleaner flowers with colorful construction paper hands as a base.

4a 4b
4c 4d

* * *
The Van Art Project exemplifies the power of creative expression to help children cope during times of stress. No matter what their circumstances, children from all walks of life can reap real emotional, psychological, and health benefits by cultivating their innate creativity — in whatever form it most naturally takes — as a lifestyle imperative.

All photographs by Leyla Acka, Van Art Project.


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