Children’s Healing Art Project

July 01, 2020

Children’s Healing Art Project

There’s no particular lesson or project. The art supplies are abundant; there are beads, clay, paint, paper, and imagination at work in the hospital playroom. 

One little boy steps back from the table, surveying what he’s created, quietly saying to himself, “Yes.”

That contented moment is one of the reasons why Sharon Jaye Perrins works as the Lead Art Teacher with the Portland, Oregon-based nonprofit Children’s Healing Art Project (CHAP), bringing art to children and families facing medical challenges. The goal is to take a patient or family’s nervous energy and switch it to creative energy. 

“It’s a good reason for them to come into the playroom and do art with us,” Sharon explains. “They don’t let any medical talk or procedures happen in there. So we get to be the art fairies, creating a positive place for them to get away. And it just helps them remember that they are kids.”

Working closely with hospital staff, CHAP volunteers can reach out to kids who have been dealing with particularly difficult treatment schedules, enticing them to leave their rooms or showing them creative ways to express their frustrations. One day, Sharon devised a paint splatter project for one little girl, covering the walls and floors with bedsheets and placing blank paper in the center of the floor. 

“We don’t often do this because it’s so messy, but she was in a rough spot. We got the paint really wet and I showed her how to flick her wrist to let the paint splatter. Even within a couple minutes of doing that fun and reckless art project, there was a complete change in her.”

Sharon was drawn to helping children during college. While studying architecture at RISD,  her work study was in a non-profit nursery looking after young children in state care. It was an experience that set the trajectory for her life. 

After working as an architect and having her own kids, Sharon felt pulled in a familiar direction,  one where the seeds had been planted during her time in Providence, RI. Now in Oregon, she’d been volunteering at a children’s hospital assisting wherever she was needed: rocking babies, playing board games with older kids, working on art projects with others. When she heard about CHAP, she knew it was the next step, working for a non-profit that gives children, adults and their families a moment of relief in a place where they least expect it and at a time when they most need it.

“Sometimes we’ll set up jewelry making with beads outside of pediatric surgery. And we just say come join us if you want to have busy hands; busy hands keep your head in a more positive frame of mind. This really shifts the energy in the waiting area: strangers can befriend each other around the beading table. Just being there with art supplies makes that possible.”

Much of what Sharon sees at the beading table or inside the art room resonates outside as well. She notes that many children will dive into creating something without the need for instruction, and that they often inspire each other. Adults usually need more prompting to put their nerves aside and get their creativity flowing; they’re out of practice or uncertain when picking up a paintbrush. Sharon will tell them, “if you don’t like it, just throw it in the garbage can. It’s more about the process, we don’t need to hang it up.” There’s freedom in the act of art, not the end product. 

Like so many organizations, CHAP pivoted during COVID-19, live streaming art breaks and dropping off creative care packages full of new art supplies until in-person art sessions can resume. Until then, they’re doing what they can to stay connected with patients, giving them the opportunity to keep hands and minds occupied with something other than worry, at least for a little while.    

Kids Rule: Children’s Healing Art Project

Join us Thursday, July 9th at 6pm for a conversation with Sharon Jaye Perrins of CHAP. Sharon will join Anthi for a virtual discussion about the healing power of art and turning nervous energy into creative energy. Sharon will also share ideas for fun art projects to do at home with easy to find items. This event is part of July’s Virtual AHA! Night programming. 

RSVP for the event.

Learn more about CHAP.