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Photo: The alleyway outside Catalyst Art Gallery, Belfast. A site for outdoor art during the Northern Ireland Group for Art as Therapy Summer School, 2013.

Galleries are emerging locations for art therapists to expand their practices to include new possibilities for engagement with clients and community groups (Colbert, S. , Cooke, A., Camic, P., Springham, N. (2013) “The Art Gallery as a Resource for Recovery for People who have Experienced Psychosis”, The Arts in Psychotherapy, 40, pp. 250-256).

The British Association of Art Therapists has a new special interest group devoted to art therapy in the context of art galleries. The goal of this special interest group is to explore how art therapy can become situated within cultural spaces. The potential of art galleries collaborating in the practice of art therapy, transports art therapy into public thoroughfares, where the boundaries of therapeutic practice are enlarged by the influences of artists, their methods, materials, and ideas.

During the course of a presentation to the Irish Association of Creative Arts Therapists, American art therapist Joan Phillips (University of Oklahoma) outlined how galleries could be utilised within the practice of art therapy. She discussed the ways in which galleries are interactive spaces for the discussion of human experience. She believes they are holding environments, places that evoke memory and associations. Art galleries encourage responsiveness and expression through conversation and art production. By encouraging reflection art galleries can be used to harvest themes which make connections between art and personal experience.

Evidence suggests that art gallery based interventions offer a safe environment for people to develop narratives that promote recovery and well being (Colbert, S., Cooke, A., Camic, P., Springham, N., 2013). Personal narratives evoked in art galleries, contradict the imposition of therapeutic narratives in health care systems, where the service user may feel they are receiving treatment rather than co-participating. Accessing the arts within a gallery setting, strengthens validation, empathy, conversation, commonality and facilitates more genuine relationships between participants and therapists. The value of an art gallery is its location outside the realm of health care services. The art education and critical analysis engendered within art galleries also offers a venue for intellectual reasoning, contemplation, and debate.

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