The Creative Expressions program began in 2016, as Kadima leadership realized the arts can have a positive impact on people coping with various mental health issues.
The Creative Expressions program began in 2016, as Kadima leadership realized the arts can have a positive impact on people coping with various mental health issues. (Photo: Craig Nowak)

Kadima Creative Expressions helps people improve their mental health.

For years, Joel has dreamed of creating a graphic novel from the Star Trek-inspired art project he began as a teen. Today, thanks to Kadima’s Creative Expressions program, he is on the way to bringing his longtime dream to fruition.

“It takes place in the 47th century; there’s some very far out and complex stuff,” he said.
Beyond publishing a book, his aspirations include a video game, a movie and a pilot for a television series.

Harnessing the Power of Art

The Creative Expressions program began in 2016, as Kadima leadership realized the arts can have a positive impact on people coping with various mental health issues.

“Studies show the important power of the arts for improving mental health and creating community and positive connections between people,” says Eric Adelman, executive director of Kadima, which provides a variety of residential, therapeutic and social services to people with mental health challenges. “These people have experienced a lot of closed doors; they haven’t had a lot of opportunities to engage in the arts.”

Barbara Kratchman, whose long career in the arts and cultural community includes serving as director of the Michigan Council for the Arts, was instrumental in developing the program. Kratchman, who is married to past Kadima president Michael Kratchman, helped develop partnerships with local arts organizations such as the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA), Detroit Symphony Orchestra (DSO) and the College for Creative Studies (CCS).

“The benefits to our members have been palpable. People have embraced this program beyond what I’ve ever dreamed,” said Kratchman, who serves as chairperson of the Creative Expressions Council. “It’s brought people out of themselves and taught them they could do things they never imagined they could.”

The program has flourished under the direction of program coordinator Craig Nowak, a professional artist and CCS instructor who became acquainted with Kadima when he taught a plein air (outdoor painting) class. When asked to join the organization on a full-time basis, he enthusiastically accepted.

“It’s the most fulfilling job I’ve ever had,” he said.

Eastern Market was the backdrop for a Kadima photography class.
Eastern Market was the backdrop for a Kadima photography class.  Photo: Gabriella Baginski

Pre-Pandemic Programming

Before the pandemic, at the Kadima headquarters at the Lois and Milton Y. Zussman Activity Center in Southfield, there was a flurry of activity. Art programs in conjunction with the College for Creative Studies included printmaking/commercial arts, a mural painting class at City Hall Artspace Lofts in Dearborn, plein air (outdoor) painting and photography/stop-motion animation. A variety of music classes, some taught by visiting DSO musicians, include instrumental instruction, singing and movement. Among the most popular classes was a creative writing workshop and a member-written newsletter, the Kadima Voice.

Classes were augmented with field trips to the DIA and tickets to performances by the Michigan Opera Theatre (MOT), DSO and other local arts events.

Before in-person sessions were suspended, Joel also participated in the photography and music classes, where he played trombone and piano.

“Kadima has been very beneficial to my music and my art,” he said. “I learned about mixing colors…and the different processes of layering paint in a positive, fun atmosphere.”

Therapeutic Programs

In addition to providing numerous creative opportunities, the program utilizes certified therapists who help coordinate members’ chosen activities with their individual treatment goals. This includes art and music therapy and a drum circle that helps members focus on feelings and personal identity within a supportive group setting.

A family culinary arts therapy program brings members together with family and friends for a joint meal planning and cooking session that includes opportunities for socialization and problem solving.

“This is not just a ‘feel good’ program,” Adelman said. “When we’re engaging with people with persistent mental illness, we need to know we’re doing good work.”

Kadima Creative Expressions helps people improve their mental health.
Finishing touches are added to a collaborative mural painting directed by Joel Kaufman. Photo: Jerry Zolynsky

Flourishing Talent

For Michael, whose musical talents include singing, guitar playing and piano, the music enrichment classes are a natural choice.

“It’s great. I get to sing, dance, move to the music, interact with the other clients, perform before groups and work with DSO musicians,” he said.

Michael, who majored in journalism at Michigan State University and considers himself “a bit of a wordsmith,” also enjoyed the creative writing workshops. He recalls a writing assignment where members were asked to imagine they were super heroes.

“My super powers would be empathy, peace, love and understanding,” he said.
Michael had fun staging a King Kong-style scene in the photography class and enjoyed painting a fountain at Cranbrook Gardens in the plein air course last summer.

Miriam, who began playing the violin in third grade, is another regular member of the music program. In addition to learning from DSO musicians, she worked with a music therapist to choose themes and songs that optimized her talents and musical preferences. She was thrilled to perform in front of friends and family members at Orchestra Hall in the recital that culminates each session.

“It’s therapeutic to both learn and become more confident with my playing,” said Miriam, who likes Jewish music and wants to learn how to play “Canon in D” by Johann Pachelbel.

Kadima Creative Expressions helps people improve their mental health.
DSO musician Jeremy Crosmer joins Kadima’s Miriam Weiner at a performance. Photo: Jeff Aisen

Creativity Goes Virtual

When the pandemic hit, Kadima staff worked quickly to adapt programming so members can participate from the safety of their homes. The DSO music enrichment classes are taking place over Zoom. New additions include a songwriting class and a special session for members who are new to the music program. A virtual photography class with CCS instructor Gabby Baginski is under way.

Nowak is leading a creative writing class where each member begins a story and passes it along until each member has written an installment.

“It’s been keeping them active and very creative, too,” said Nowak, who is distributing tablets to members who don’t have computers at home. “It’s important that everyone stay connected.”

Kadima artists Madison Dunbar (sitting) and Brittany Strickland work collaboratively on a mural painting.
Kadima artists Madison Dunbar (sitting) and Brittany Strickland work collaboratively on a mural painting. Photo: Melinda Clynes

Art therapist Shazia Siddiqi from “Let’s Art About It” in Clawson is providing weekly individual sessions online.

In addition, Nowak has designed creativity kits that include a variety of adult coloring books and sketchbooks, acrylic and watercolor painting supplies, clay, knitting and crochet kits, hat and scarf looms, embroidery kits, origami, beading kits, and collage materials. All of the kits come with instructions and links to YouTube videos.

While the venues have changed, the artists are as prolific as ever. During the past several weeks, Joel has written the story for his graphic novel and drawn 100 new pages.

The Creative Expressions program is funded by grants from the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan and the D. Dan and Betty Kahn Foundation, in addition to private donations. An art exhibition is now online, in lieu of the canceled June fundraising benefit at Rustbelt Market in Ferndale. People can see members’ art by clicking here. The Creative Expressions Program will be showcased again at Kadima’s annual Community Awards Night, scheduled for Oct. 8, at the Royal Oak Farmers Market.

For Adelman, the payoff is seeing members blossom as a result of their participation in the arts program.

“Seeing people who otherwise tend to be withdrawn realize they can do things they couldn’t do before … It translates to the rest of their lives,” Adelman. said “These are the steps that lead to recovery, happiness and a positive self-image.”

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