Art + Brain + Happiness

What if students of all ages could understand and regulate their own emotions through art and mindfulness?

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Founding Story: Share a story about a key experience or spark that helps the network understand why this project got started or a story about how you became inspired about the potential for this project to succeed.

I have worked with children and adolescents individually using art therapy and mindfulness to improve their overall well-being. I have witnessed the shift in their understanding of their own and others behaviors and their realization of how they have benefited. Their realization of how they were able to make those changes in themselves - the understanding of how art helped empower them to live more fully and more aware. I can imagine how amazing it would be for students of all ages in all grades to learn these skills that they can carry with them for a lifetime. Skills that help them avoid mental health problems and skills that help them thrive.

Which categories describe you? (the answer will not be public)

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French, Caucasian)


Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [State]

  • Michigan

Location: Where is your organization headquartered? [City]


Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [State]

  • Michigan

Location: Where is your project primarily creating impact? [City]

Livonia MI

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

This program for mental health education through art and mindfulness would take place in schools grades K-12. Educating children about brain and behavior is a great way to prevent mental health problems later in life. Children are smart and capable and deserving of this kind of education. I envision school-wide campaigns to get the students involved, assemblies with speakers and activities, and parent / teacher / staff training opportunities.

We often hear about youth bullying, youth suicide, and parents struggles to help their children thrive. But what if we steered the conversation to preventing these issues? Wouldn't it be great if students in all grades learned how their brains are working for and against them and how they can change their brain for the better? By combining art therapy and the science neuroplasticity and mindfulness, we could teach kids how to handle stress, anxiety, and depression. We could reduce the stigma of mental health issues by helping kids understand what is happening in their brains and what they can do to feel better. They will learn skills that they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. Neuroplasticity and mindfulness is crucial information that we all need to learn to grow up with a strong sense of self, purpose, and belonging. 

Is your model focused on any of the following traditionally underserved communities?

  • No, not explicitly

Does your model work within any of the following sectors?

  • Education
  • Mental Health

Year Founded


Project Stage

  • Idea (poised to launch)

Example: Walk the network through a specific example of what happens when a person or group engages with your solution.

I envision creating this program for schools as a constant solution to student mental health. Imagine an educational assembly for students that includes learning about mindfulness and neuroplasticity through fun art projects that enhance learning and reduce stress. Students can learn how to create mandalas using their own symbols of personal positive traits; making a watercolor painting cover for a personal gratitude journal they can use each day; creating personal self-affirmations as daily reminders of their greatness, and more. These art projects are based in neuroscience as ways to decrease stress and anxiety and improve happiness. Also having an art therapist provide regular trainings for students / parents / teacher / staff.

Impact: What was the impact of your work last year? Please also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

this program does not yet exist

Organization Type

  • for-profit

Annual Budget

  • $50k - $100k

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is your solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

This project has not started yet, but I'm estimating approx 50K for full time program. I'm hoping that it could be included in the school district budget and also included in the fundraising efforts of the schools. The Livonia Michigan school district provides many opportunities for our students and I believe the board of education would find this program valuable. I may create a non-profit for this program to grow nationally.

Unique Value Proposition: How else is this problem being addressed? Are there other organizations working in the same field, and how does your project differ from these other approaches?

The Miami Dade schools in Florida, and some schools in England, employ art therapists to work with students who already have emotional/behavioral disabilities as part of their education plan or who are referred by teachers. I would like to reach students before they have an emotional disability and to let them know that some anxiety and sadness is normal for everyone but it doesn’t need to go untreated. Some kids would benefit from one or two art therapy sessions and some might need more. Having an art therapist available and learning mindfulness would be preventative and build resilience.

Reflect on the Field and its Future: Stepping outside of your project, what do you see as the most important or promising shifts that can advance children’s wellbeing?

I believe that early intervention and prevention of mental health is the most important benefit we can give our students. Art therapy and mindfulness are so well suited to children because of the non-threatening and fun aspect of creating art. Working with a trained art therapist, students can learn lifetime skills to help cope with anxiety and depression and most importantly, they can learn to identify the signs of mental health problems early on. I believe kids are capable of learning and benefiting from mindfulness through art to prevent future mental health problems.

Source: How did you hear about the Children’s Wellbeing Challenge? (the answer will not be public)

  • Word of mouth

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka, who was it? (the answer will not be public) email listserv

Program Design Clarity

A) students in elementary through high school B) mindfulness based art therapy tasks C) 1 school wide presentation at start of year explaining program encouraging kids and families to support preventative mental health care supported by neuroscience - for students, teachers, staff, and parents. Art therapy services would then be available in the school during the day, 1-5 days per week depending on the needs of the school, for students that request it or are referred by teacher/staff. D) Art therapy services provided by trained art therapist or art therapy intern supervised by a ATR

Community Leadership

Since this program is in the planning stage, I will be testing the program at a local elementary school with students during their academic enrichment times, which is generally once a week. I have also been invited to test the program in the upcoming school year with a non profit that brings art back into schools as part of the regular curriculum. I will be able to meet with students, teachers, and parents to discuss the program and refine it.

Age of Children Impacted

  • 3 - 5
  • 6 - 12
  • 12+

Spread Strategies

I envision my program providing mental health strategies to students everywhere to prevent emotional disabilities. By educating parents, teachers, and staff about the neuroscience behind art therapy and mindfulness and the potential benefits, I believe we would get support. I could provide trainings for registered art therapist to then train art therapy interns and volunteers to implement this program nationwide.

Reflect on how your work helps children to thrive. How are you cultivating children’s sense of self, belonging, and purpose through your model?

Art therapy and mindfulness teach children and adolescents coping skills that will carry through to adulthood. Most children are naturally comfortable expressing themselves through art so the tasks in the program would be fun and easy (increasing confidence and self-compassion) while strengthening the neural connections in their brain. They will discover that their brains have a natural anti-depressant and stress reducing hormones.

Leadership Story

I’ve always used my art as a personal type of therapy - when I’m not creating art it negatively affects my mood. Since adolescence I’ve suffered from depression and anxiety and I’ve always wanted to find a way to prevent any child from experiencing such emotional distress. Art therapy is a perfect profession to share that healing process. Helping individuals through art therapy is rewarding, but I’m compelled to reach everyone - to teach everyone the power of art. Learning these coping skills at an early age it’s possible to reduce the overwhelming amount of bullying, depression, and anxiety.

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Photo of Kelly Darke

Thank you Maud Schaafsma and Nathan M McTague, CPCC, CPDPE for your feedback! It is very helpful and greatly appreciated. Still researching and developing the program idea and will update soon.

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