Photos by Richard Lovrich

A group of art therapists came together two years ago to make the creative arts accessible to people from all walks of life and financial circumstance. The non-profit C.R.E.A.T.E Community Studios has two locations—one in Schenectady and one in Saratoga—that are used to strengthen community ties, provide the therapeutic benefits of art to those in need and inspire social change.

“It was really this confluence of events where these art therapists who had interest in providing the healing and wellness benefits of art to the community had the chance to make it happen,” says Heather Hutchison, who runs the Schenectady studio at 137 State Street with Charlotte Mack.

Hutchison says she was inspired to provide more access to the arts in Schenectady because she saw the arts community that thrived around Jay Street splinter during the redevelopment of the area. “We had a void in the visual arts. There isn’t a lot of public art—not a lot of murals in Schenectady—and that was part of the impetus of opening a studio downtown.”

The center provides a range of classes, workshops and therapeutic exercises. Classes such as “Coping Creatively” and “Healing Art Hour” provide “safe and non-judgmental spaces” for creation. Classes are priced affordably to allow broad access. The group is always looking for volunteers to teach classes, oversee workshops and run events.

In March the group led “Schenectady & Me,” a project that encouraged Schenectadians to create collages about what they love about their city. Packets for the project were made available at Urban Co-Works and creation events were held across the city.

“We’re about using art in a community,” says Hutchison. “When we create, we are together. It is a shared experience. Not only does it help strengthen our community, but it helps people cope with anxiety, isolation and improve mental health.”

On March 30 the group will celebrate its two-year anniversary at Proctors with the Help Us Grow fundraiser featuring a silent auction, live music, poetry and art making. Tickets are $30 for a family and $10 for individuals. 

Hutchison says she continues to hear from agencies across the state that there simply is not enough programming available to meet the need for arts-focused mental wellness services. “I’m an art therapist and I see there is a great need. I couldn’t meet the demand by myself.”