Ohio University

Ohio Valley Center for Collaborative Arts serves communities through arts-based Recovery Coalition 

Telehealth Sketch

In the 18 months since Ohio University launched the Appalachian Recovery Project, the Ohio Valley Center for Collaborative Arts (CoArts) in the College of Fine Arts has connected more than 80 women in recovery from substance abuse disorders leveraging art making as form of expressing and healing. 

CoArts has mobilized a team of music therapists, visual artists, filmmakers, and yoga practitioners as part of a regional coalition of university and community partners committed to increasing access to addiction treatment, recovery supports, and vocational training for justice-involved women from Hocking, Perry, Athens, Vinton and Morgan Counties. Together, artists and community members are creating unique experiences that demonstrate the transformative power of collaborative arts. Angela Sprunger, CoArts Assistant Director, is leading the arts-based programming. 

Since August of 2019, CoArts has partnered with Central Ohio Music Therapy LLC (COMT) to provide regular music therapy at four sites in two counties, says Sprunger. Music Therapist Jessica Fletcher travels to treatment sites where she hosts group sessions using instruments, singing, and songwriting. Music Therapy has a research-driven record of supporting addiction recovery programs, and when used in court-related services has been proven to increase program retention and completion rates, as well as long term recovery rates. In response to COVID-19, two of the four sites receiving therapy services were unable to make the transition to telehealth or distanced in-person therapy, Sprunger adds. However, for the two sites that adapted to the transition, Central Ohio Music Therapy LLC has continued to provide a connection to the outer world and inner self. 

“Every time we work with someone from the outside it melts the shame a little,” says the case manager at Rural Women’s Recovery Program. “I love watching it happen. Even when we are virtual. A big smiling face on the screen shares her excitement to work with the women and for a moment they don't trust it and then I watch them shift, relax a little more and let her into the relationship. It's these healthy connections, these moments, that are priceless in our work to heal as whole women.” The name of the staff person has been withheld for privacy. 

In order to build upon and complement the Central Ohio Music Therapy LLC sessions, Sprunger led a team of interdisciplinary artists to co-create and offer the following expressive arts workshops during summer of 2020. Examples include: 

  • Recovering Genealogies, created by Cassidy Brauner (Emerging Artist Fellow at the College of Fine Arts’ School of Art + Design). 
  • Yoga for Recovery, created by Erin Phfaler (Athens-based registered yoga teacher). A six-part movement series paired with Music Therapy sessions to care for bodily trauma; staff members at partner treatment sites receive free access to Phfaler’s weekly yoga classes. 
  • Digital Animation, created by Lindsey Martin (Assistant Professor, School of Film). Participants learned to design and animate characters using iPads and other digital media; the workshop emphasized technical skills and reflective, narrative methods. 
  • Occupational Therapy, created by Courtney Enos (Occupational Therapist). Participants reflect on their experiences with an occupational therapist as a transferrable experience to future work and interests. 

All arts-based programming is women-led and women-centered. 

Research shows that, broadly, creative arts practices bolster traditional substance abuse recovery programs by developing right-brain activity, improving focused attention, flexibility, patience, self-discipline, and teamwork, says Sprunger. By providing safe ways to process and release disruptive feelings, the arts-based recovery programs build a sense of purpose, demonstrating how visualizing positive change can impact one’s life. 

“As teachers and researchers in their respective fields, the professional artists have found the community-driven programming to be mutually beneficial. For one, their creative practices elicit a response from workshop participants in new and exciting ways,” says Sprunger. 

CoArts’ mission is to support socially-engaged, grounded and cross-sector collaborative extensions of the fine arts. Funding for this project comes from the Appalachian Regional Commission (POWER grant, 2019) and the Ohio Arts Council (ArtNEXT grant, 2019). For more information contact Sam Dodd, director and co-founder, Ohio Valley Center for Collaborative Arts, dodds@ohio.edu.