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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Burlington Expressive Arts Facilitator Says We Are All Innately Creative

Courtesy of Topaz Weis
A group of engineers in a 30-minute 'Brain Reboot' work on innovation and team-building.

Topaz Weis is an expressive arts facilitator with a space called Expressive Arts Burlington.She recently sat down with VPR to talk about her practice and how each of us has creative abilities within.

What's the distinction between art therapist and expressive arts facilitator?

"As an expressive arts facilitator, I'm interested in bringing out a person's innate creativity, allowing people to experience what is our birthright and our culture has pretty much stripped away from us. In expressive arts, I work inter-modally, which means I work with visual art and movement and drama and writing and poetry and all of the expressive arts.

"When you watch a child, children are happy. Children don't carry a lot of stress; even children who come from traumatic situations. They can engage in play and experience great joy but this is all of our birthright and our culture has taught us that you have to be an expert in order to engage in movement or to engage in visual art or to sing. I think that our world has gotten to a point where everybody is specialized. There are experts in every field and those of us who don't have that advanced training feel like it's not accessible to us and I believe that we now live in a world where people don't whistle. 

Credit Topaz Weis
Topaz Weis, a expressive arts facilitator in Burlington, seeks to bring "out a person's innate creativity," not matter what their age or creative background.

"When I was a child in the 1960s and 70s,  you could be standing in the grocery line or the check-out line and people would be whistling or humming. I can remember walking through the backyard trails of childhood and seeing moms singing or hearing dads whistling while they were working on the car or whatever. This quality of expression is virtually invisible now. People used to draw a lot. People used to sketch when they didn't have handheld devices. People would write poetry. And this is all part of our innate ability that is kind of stripped away by our culture and Expressive Arts Burlington wants to be the kind of place that takes that back."

You offer workshops and classes that range from circles for women and girls, coming-of-age workshops, even 'Art Church' on Sunday mornings for creative expression. What about your work with older Vermonters who are living with memory loss and dementia?

"I run a group at Ethan Allen and we play. The community there has varying different stages of dementia or Alzheimer's or are in rehab of one form or another. There is a variety of ability level in the room. And sometimes I bring my guitar in and we sing. And there are people who have a difficult time stringing words of a sentence together but can remember all the words to show tunes. Expressive arts with this population is so wonderful because it brings them back to a part of themselves and they have a language that they can communicate in that does not require that they remember the words."

Credit Topaz Weis
At Ethan Allen Residence in Burlington, an elder paints during a visit from expressive arts facilitator, Topaz Weis.

For someone who doesn't feel creative or artistic, how can engaging in expressive arts benefit us?

"There is this word, 'neuroplasticity' and it is talking about how the neurons in our brain work and hold information and also can build and create more openings and more activity inside the brain. And when you spend the entire day looking at a screen, working in one sort of track, there is one part of your brain that is really firing, all those synapses are really firing...and there is another big chunk of your brain this is just kind of hanging out.

"When you engage in the arts, a whole lot of that other part of the brain that has been sleeping wakes up and goes, 'Oh! This is fun! This is interesting! 'and then all the sudden, the spaces in between the neurons...start firing in different ways and so this is where innovation happens, this is where imagination happens and ultimately for the business community, this is where productivity comes up. Because people who have been working on a problem and have not been able to find a solution to it take a 30-minute art break and come back and all of the sudden they gain a different perspective. And their brain is able to sort of stretch and exercise in a different way and come up with a new idea."

Expressive Arts Burlington has classes and workshops for individuals, groups and businesses.

Mary Williams Engisch is a local host on All Things Considered.
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