~ The Art Of Change ~ with Carol Omer ~

Art and Creativity as Mediums for Empowerment , Connection and Change…

Archive for the ‘Personal Development’ Category

Domestic Violence Shelter Walls as a Gallery of Possibility not pain.

Posted by carolom on October 9, 2014

Domestic Violence Shelter Walls as a Gallery of Possibility not Pain.

Carol Omer ~ Certified Life Coach / Author

I have worked in Domestic Violence shelters in direct service delivery and on management boards for almost 30 years. One evening in the early days a resident and I were sitting in the group room of the shelter.

The walls were full of the kind of posters often found in d.v and homeless settings. Say no to domestic violence posters and statements that challenge abuse and injustice were the words on the posters lining the walls. The word violence  was written everywhere, even on the refrigerator in the kitchen.
There were also  hepatitis pamphlets, images that represented ill health, struggle and poverty and they were there because they were considered to be educational and necessary for the women, many who are considered to be “at risk”
Staff believed residents and outreach clients should be able to see the information in front of them at all times.

Pamphlets and fact sheets that had the words  trauma and stress, abuse and violence written on them in bright letters were on the wall by the door where women and children came and went throughout the day.

The woman I was sitting with looked around the room and said:

My life feels completely messed up and I look around and see these images and words  and it just makes it all feel so much worse.

It’s like the violence is everywhere. I’ve never been to a place like this before. Seeing that word violence over and over and over  freaks me out,

I saw the setting from her view point for the first time and took her observation to our staff meeting.

After several  discussions over several staff meetings we came to realise that it is not only the women who live at the shelter but the women who work there who are exposed to pain and trauma based imagery and  the words violent  and violence and deficit oriented messages on a daily basis.

Was our shelter warm and welcoming, colourful and bright or was it sterile, institutional and covered in words and messages that highlighted trauma, pain and the struggle?

Had we considered creating positive  visual images (that did not rely on English literacy) to  let women of all cultural backgrounds know that this was her place to unwind, relax and reflect or did our setting look like a government department with warning posters and issue-oriented material on the walls? No we hadn’t and yes it did.

Sistars2

As a staff would we want to live in this environment at the worst period of our own lives? No we wouldn’t.

Would we feel comfortable and at home there considering we would be living amongst and sharing space with strangers?

We decided that no, we wouldn’t be warm and comfortable in our group room or the kitchen area as they were covered in issue related words and imagery and none of us had the word violence or abuse in the communal spaces where we met with friends and family in our homes to share food and stories together.

We noticed we had a sexual abuse hot line magnet on the fridge which we later found out was traumatic for some women to read every time they opened the door to get milk. A “Say no to violence”  magnet was along side of it.
The words “violence” seemed to be everywhere, on pamphlets, on hand outs, on the white boards.

Where were the word’s for Peace? They weren’t there!

Over the next few weeks we took down every poster that had the word violence on it and all of the words and images that presented how life should not to be and replaced them with inspirational images and uplifting posters.

I created a World Peace Begins at Home poster which had exactly the same message as say no to violence but with a very different emotional and visual impact.

We were, for the first time considering what messages the walls and the furniture and notice boards were sending to the women who came to our shelter.

The front entrance area no longer had a list of house rules, they went into the information pack in the drawer. We redeveloped the space with the words A Peaceful Welcome inside of a glass painted Mandala  on the front window.
Our counseling areas were transformed into peaceful, inviting spaces. We consciously created an evocative, tranquil setting in what was once an issue oriented, high profile violence focused shelter.

We also had to acknowledge we had created a very Euro-centric space that had very little cultural diversity or language representation so w e renamed each of the units “Peace” in seven different languages to demonstrate a commitment to muli-culturalism rather than offer token gestures that made space available for diversity but only within a European context. We had the words  placed on plaques that were visual and educational, with the country of origin along with the word for Peace.

We approached an Elder from the Aboriginal Community and received permission to name our meeting space Inbandi  the word meaning to gather.

The Mandala portal at  the entrance point to the Shelter was now a warm and welcoming one rather than a rules and issue based message space. It was an image that spoke to all women from all cultural backgrounds and didn’t require English literacy to transmit the intention.

What we learnt from that pivotal situation is that placing violence related images and literature and issue based words in front of people who are assessed as in need of education and support is  often just adding to the existing problem of a negatively saturated experience rather than acting as a vehicle for change. It was a turning point moment for our team and was the catalyst for a huge cultural shift.

Staff who work in domestic violence settings do not need to be seeing the deficit based words every day of their working lives either. Neuroscience research shows that we are all impacted by the sights we see and the words and sounds we hear daily.

Confronting images and statistics and abuse phone lines often don’t have the impact as intended, they can unintentionally add to an existing landscape that affirms the negative and disregards the positive /aspirational content when it comes to many public awareness campaigns.

We relocated issue based information into brightly coloured folders so that it was accessible but not visually repeating the negative, stressful wording every time someone walked past the notice board. The notice board became a place where women’s art and affirmations and culturally specific images were displayed.

The subliminal impact of the environment was one we had not previously considered but we were now becoming very attuned to the setting and culture we were consciously creating.

Over the next few years our once issue-saturated shelter transformed into a place that was inspirational, evocative, creative and highly educational. Our new in-house culture was grounded in the assumption that people who want to make changes don’t need to see the language of violence and trauma before her eyes and as staff we also chose not to repeatedly see words that evoke a sense of trauma and misfortune, instead we focused on aspirations and possibility.

As time went by I saw tired and over worked government workers melt down into the colourful, warm couches in our group room, look at the walls and the plants and say: It feels really peaceful in here. That’s so unusual for a shelter.

Women who were highly agitated and still fully immersed in the crisis that lead them to the shelter would relax and slow down within the group room which was enriched by having the opportunity to colour some of the art work for themselves and take the positive images and messages back to their unit to create their own affirmation and inspirational gallery. We had meditative music and culturally diverse play lists to add to the ambience of the room.

Our group room became a community space. It was no longer a setting that was driven and created by staff intentions but by what the women wanted to create and share.

This single step revolutionised the sense of community and connection at the shelter because we encouraged the women to create the space and atmosphere by contributing to the environment rather than simply sitting in the one we had created for them.

If the women who work in domestic violence shelters and the management are not open to creativity and creating a new culture of positive imagery and a welcoming meeting space, residents will not feel comfortable to explore their own creativity and sense of place in the shelter either. The service will feel like an institution rather than a Women’s place of healing and possibility.

Creativity and visual imagery was at the core of these sweeping changes and the staff and management had to be open to creating a new culture that can be messy and uncertain during the transition phase. It was a challenge for some of the team to change some of our core practices and values but eventually we also allowed ourselves to engage with creativity in the workplace during staff meetings and staff training events at a much higher level than ever before and this had a profound impact on our work – life balance practices.

I encourage all of us who work in women’s shelters, prisons and community health and settings to take a look at the walls and notice boards ask the questions:

*Are the words I am reading and the images I am seeing day after day   creating an inspirational  uplifting environment or are the walls saturated in pain, issues and trauma based messages that affirm the negative to try and create the positive?

*Could I place the information about pain and struggle and injustice and trauma based counseling into colourful, engaging folders and make space for an inspirational, uplifting invitation to change and empower community and connection instead?

*Look around at your shelter / community house  /office and ask yourself “Is this a place that is both professional and inviting or have we fallen into the government department trap of creating impersonal spaces that do not reflect the creativity, courage and unique cultural experiences of the women who come to live here for awhile?

I offer the World Peace Begins at Home b/w template  freely for workers in shelters and community settings and prisons who are interested in beginning the process of creating uplifting art and imagery in communal areas and would like to offer the women in residence the chance to create with their hands and tell stories and share information using creativity.

It was the first of the inspirational templates I created after the resident of our shelter highlighted the uninviting, clinical space that we had inadvertently created for her.

World Peace b:w

Peace

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Posted in Creativity, Domestic Violence, Peace, Personal Development, Shelter, Sisterhood, Staff Training, Transformation, Women | 2 Comments »

~ World Peace Day – September 21st ~

Posted by carolom on September 21, 2010

World Peace Begins at Home!

Peace, harmony, balance, generating feelings of relaxation and well being.

Being centered and relaxed  with the Mind at rest. These are the Gifts of Mandala, a Sanskrit word meaning Circle.

I created the following Mandala poster for Women living in the domestic violence shelters where I was working, after a newly arrived resident pointed out that the shelter walls were covered in anti-violence posters but all she saw was the word violence all around her and negative imagery and  it didn’t feel like a safe place to be on account of that. Shelters often have posters that are considered ‘educational’ but her observations brought into question their true value and worth.

It was a very important message she gave to the staff and I thank her for her invaluable feedback. We invited feedback from other residents and they too  made comments such as “that one that says ‘domestic violence hurts kids’ made my little boy  frightened especially   that one of the woman cowering with her kids in the background”.

We listened to what we were being told through the eyes of women  who had come to live at the shelter at a point of chaos and danger in their life and systematically removed all of the words and images that were not aligned with Peace and positivity.

We refocused on Peace to create Peace no longer using the word violence  in order to reach its opposite and the other posters and pamphlets that dealt with issues of violence and poverty were in the filing cabinet and only brought our if necessary during group conversations.

The World Peace Begins at Home poster continues to be one of the most popular of what became my  ART of Change tools and now lives in many houses on fridges and bathroom doors, each one coloured differently from the next.

It is not only Women living in domestic violence who are leading busy, chaotic lives though It is important for all of us to take some time to breathe, relax, play and create! That’s why Mandalas for colouring in are received so well by women who are living in shelters and women who are looking for some balance in their busy busy lives.

If you would like a copy of the black and white World Peace Begins at Home template, leave me a message with your email address and I will happily and freely share it with you.

*Please see note below for the Dedication of this poster.

This Mandala is freely shared in dedication  to the special memory of my friend Janet who lost her life in domestic violence in 2001.

We used to sing “Give Peace a Chance” when we were young and loving life back in the 70’s and neither of us could have known where Janets path would take her.

Travel in Peace my beloved friend….

Posted in ART of Change, Australia, Change, Community, Creativity, Healing, Imagination, Oneness, Peace, Personal Development, Relationships, Transformation, World Peace Day | 4 Comments »

Creativity and Life Coaching…what does that mean?

Posted by carolom on June 30, 2010

On 4DiJ TV on Monday evening I discussed the role of creativity in the Life Coaching process. I was not able to imbed the segment but you can click here to view the program 4DiJ TV goes live to the internet at 8 pm every Monday evening (South Australian time). You can view all past episodes at the site ….

Here are two of our recent guests… In the first photo Karnage from Karnage and Darknis followed by Major Sumner of the Talkindjeri Dance troupe in conversation with the host of 4DiJ Tv, David Salomon.

Click on the individual episodes and hear what they Karnage and Major are doing – across the generations – in music and dance here in Australia.

Posted in 4 DiJ Tv, Community, Elders, Friendships, Human Rights, Personal Development, Relationships | 2 Comments »

The Beam of a Lighthouse…

Posted by carolom on June 22, 2010

In our ART of Change group we colour posters that give visual form, shape and colour to the topic we are discussing. This week  it was Moving on From the Past and Living Freely in the Present.

“The Beam of A Lighthouse is not Affected by the Howling Wind and Rain” is a quote I came across many years ago.

I made this poster after a member of an earlier group told us:

I was doing really well giving up smoking, didn’t have a single puff for a week..but then family turned up on my door and I was back chain smoking again.They always do this t me”….

It is easy to blame others for our inner stress and turmoil especially when we are immersed in a family web of destructive behaviour and toxic patterns but  blaming  him/ her/ them /the organistation etc etc whilst pointing the finger outwardly &  focusing on where they are at fault and flawed –  and how they are responsible for ‘making me feel bad /uptight etc  – takes up time and energy that could be spent cultivating our Inner Lighthouse and learning how to step out of the predictable Pattern and into a new, positive inner world…of our own making…

Posted in ART of Change, Creativity, Imagination, Personal Development, Wisdom, Women | Tagged: | 2 Comments »