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"We have art in order not to die of the truth ." -Friedrich Nietzche  
 Image Source: Sandeman, G. (29 January, 2017). Make art, not wall. 

The 2017 Vilcek Creative Promise award winner Carlos Motta's break out exhibition was titled For Democracy There Must Be Love based on a quote from one of 500 interviews the Colombian born artist conducted in the process of making his exhibition. As the nation engages in a new struggle over diversity and integration, voices that attempt to make the presence of immigrants and their incontrovertible contributions to American society known are muted in many quarters.  Art, a robust means of cultural expression and persuasion, is often ignored or taken for granted.   Art speaks across cultures, and to the nation's soul, in subtle and powerful ways and amplifies the "other." Motta, through an installation of videos, sculptures, and documentary works, displays his preoccupation with democratic representation and the repression of individual and collective civil liberties.

Victoria Rivera, a retired child psychiatrist in St Croix, speaks through art. Her identity is complex and multiethnic, but when she pic ks up a brush she portrays the power  - even divin ity - of human life that p uts to shame stereotypes and compels recognition of human connectedness. Her portraits display vibrant red, white, and blue and gold and black that rises beyond skin tone to reveal hope and struggle, the bonds we all share.
Image Source: Hernandez, R.
CultureStrike and Alto Arizona echo th e memorable poster art from the 1970  Berkley Poster Workshop where contemporary art activists played outsized roles. Art gave a means to challenge institutionalized interpretations of culture in the 80s' March for Equality and Against Racism. Today, images that bounce from telephone poles to Instagram capture the moment and enable mobilization.   These images  are often the voice of protest. Cornel West says: "Art is about meaning, resistance, empathy, human freedom...It is about memory, fighting forgetting, to give inspiration and instruction."  Favianna Rodriquez expands on this when she teamed with Pharrell Williams in  Migration is Beautiful , a documentary about                                                                 the  influence of art on contemporary                                                             immigration debates.

Muralists such as Yetti whose work overshadows East Boston tells a community story. This vital neighborhood, from docks to restaurants, has its shared history, a story of constant change. Prolific muralist David Fichter interprets communities as seen in Potluck (Cambridge Co-op), solidifying shared life amidst diversity, and  Immigrant History in Lawrence. Models such as these are relatively easy to replicate in other changing environments.

Even as Boston's Mayor Walsh has formed a Mural Crew, uniting groups to create local art, social workers can also  emphasize art as a therapeutic tool for empowerment and social change.  There is rich research on the value of expressive art with immigrant and refugee populations ( see journals and books below ).  Given acculturative stress and the prevalence of trauma in both refugees and the undocumented populations, non-verbal expressive art can open communications wide with positive results in alleviating the symptoms of depression, anxiety and grief.  When one has survived killing fields, a loss of identity, life is often complicated by mixed feelings about those left behind juxtaposed with the conflict over the new life and its uncertainties.  Expressive arts therapy is a primary tool to address that which is not yet verbal and which impacts every emotion and aspect of self-identity. Simultaneously, this modality of therapy places particular emphasis on the healing potential of using expressive arts to advocate for political and social change.
Image Source: Cervantes, M.

While visual art holds a particular place in cross-cultural communication, dance, music, poetry and book discussions can also provide means for integrating one's own story, for expressing the anguish and hope of migration and for providing external expression that speaks to the new community about identity, emotions, and politics.  The full participation of newcomers in cultural life is in itself an affirmation of an American ideal, but seen through psychological, cultural and political lenses, otherwise silent voices are now seen and heard.  

On immigrant visions, creativity and engagement we rise.  We are renewed.  The American film industry would hardly be recognizable without the combined entrepreneurship and genius before and behind the camera. Our modern dining experience fosters both our discovery of the world and intimate conversation and is beholden to culinary greatness from every continent.  Museum visits would be unrecognizable without immigrant art, and cities without the brilliantly diverse architecture from global migrants who made this country home would be far less livable.   Art is our culture and art interprets strains from every land into the culture we know and claim - our America.

Westy Egmont, Director
BCSSW, Immigrant Integration Lab


Image Source: Hernandez, R. (2017). Dreamers: Education is our liberation. Migration Now. Retrieved from:

Image source: Cervantes, M. (2017). Dignity, not detention. Migration Now. Retrieved from:


The Vilcek Foundationestablished in 2000, desires to "raise awareness of immigrant contributions in America and foster appreciation of the arts and sciences" (Vilcek Foundation, 2017). Founded by two immigrants from the former Czechoslovakia, the organization was inspired by their immigration experiences and their appreciation of the opportunities they found through the arts and sciences upon arriving to the U.S. Through grant programs, titled  The Vilcek Prizes , the foundation awards grants to foreign-born artists and biomedical scientists who have demonstrated exceptional talent in their field. In part, these prizes are awarded to bring attention to the numerous positive contributions made by immigrants in the United States. Additionally, the founders, Jan and Marica Vilcek, began an extensive immigrant  art collection to  spark the interest of scholars and other art exhibitions around the country. The Vilcek Foundation also supports organizations who have similar missions, including the New American Filmmakers program at the Hawaii International Film Festival.

The Vilcek Foundation raises awareness about immigrant contributions in the United States through its demonstration of featured artists. Their current featured artist, winner of the 2017 Creative Promise,  Meleko Mokgosi , is a native of Botswana. Meleko immigrated to the United States after high school and attended Williams College before going on to complete his MFA at UCLA. Meleko is an exemplary artist, demonstrating his political views through art, particularly focusing on complex social and political realities of Africa. He has also focused on social issues, including nationalism, anticolonialism, and xenophobia.

CultureStrike was founded in 2011 as an arts-based strategy hub and currently connects a national network of over 200 socially engaged artists. With a visionary strategy of promoting proactive approaches towards long-term cultural change, CultureStrike uses art narratives, mobilizing images, sounds, and stories to change public opinion on social issues. Using a narrative based approach, CultureStrike operates through a migrant lens that gazes across numerous issues, highlighting the beauty and complexity of art and culture from communities who have been oppressed, labeled as criminal, or unwelcome. CultureStrike has provided an environment, both in space and in funding, for professional development of creative artists and immigrant movement groups to enhance projects which inspire artists and audiences in the fight for social justice. CultureStrike has a number of current projects, all which enhance the capacity for marginalized communities to tell their stories through art, including a  Climate Change PortfolioMobilize the Immigrant Vote (MIV) posters, and  UndocuWriting (space for undocumented writers to publish their craft).
CultureStrike's Executive Director, Sham-e-Ali Nayeem, has stated, "It is through art and culture that we are able to shift our collective consciousness and transform this grim political climate we find ourselves in. There is a significant cost our communities pay when we are not the ones uplifting our own truths. We have a tremendous opportunity to strengthen our creative alliances and shift cultural narratives that harm us. I invite us all to imagine the kind of world we wish to see and assert the safety and dignity of our communities" (Nayeem, 2016). In our current political climate, it remains ever necessary to fight for the rights of all marginalized groups, and to stand witness to the intersectional nature of issues such as immigrant rights, women's rights, racial justice and equality, LGBTQ rights, disability justice, and climate change. 

The New York Foundation for the Arts  (NYFA) was established in 1971 in hopes of empowering artists in New York, providing them with the resources needed to live and work. In recent years, the NYFA has established the  Immigrant Artist Program  (IAP), designed to serve a community of immigrant artists who come from diverse backgrounds but share the experience of immigrating to the United States. The mission of IAP is to connect foreign-born immigrants with necessary services and opportunities to foster their growth as artists. The IAP consists of three separate parts: a Mentoring Program for Immigrant Artists; a free newsletter, entitled the  Con Edison IAP Newsletter, which  lists opportunities for artists in New York and creates a virtual community for sharing ideas and experiences; and the  IAP Resource Directory , providing newcomers to New York with resources needed to begin their lives as young professional artists, including Arts Councils, Immigrant Rights & Legal Services, Workspace for Artists, and Job Listings.
The  Mentoring Program for Immigrant Artists  pairs foreign-born artists with artists who have been a part of the NYFA fellowship programs in the past. This relationship enables interaction between mentors and mentees, providing insight, opportunities, and support over the course of three months. Through the building of this relationship, foreign-born artists are provided with greater access to the art and culture of New York, and are able to offer an exchange of ideas, experiences, and resources to each other. The mentorship fosters a sense of community and provides foreign-born artists with skills needed to become a successful artist living in New York.


Rosario-Ramos, E.M., Tucker-Raymond, E., & Rosario, M. (2016).
Journal of Latinos and Education, 1(1), pp. 1-12.
Though Puerto Ricans are American citizens, they share many of the same struggles as immigrants in the United States. Research focusing on the Puerto Rican diaspora asks the question: How does art act as a space for Puerto Ricans to build identity, reclaim cultural heritage, and reimagine politics? Focusing on the Puerto Rican neighborhood of Humboldt Park, Chicago, authors examine how Puerto Ricans of the diaspora often have a social context molded by transcultural and political experiences. The artistic practices utilized in Humboldt Park are crucial for community building as well as identity formation grounded in local meanings of the Puerto Rican diaspora. Through interviewing adolescent community residents and a high school art teacher researchers found that residents' purposes for artistic practice included: (1) self-expression within practices of collective identity building; (2) cultural reclamation; and (3) political reimagining. The authors also explore tensions across geopolitical space for the Puerto Rican community engaged in identify formation through the arts. For example, they examine how representation  and participation influence whose stories get told through art and whose stories do not. The author also suggests implications for art education in schools. 
Rowe, C., Watson-Ormond, R., English, L., Rubesin, H., Marshall, A., Linton, K., Amolegbe, A., Agnew-Brune, C., & Eng, E.  (2016). 
Health Promotion Practice, 18(1), pp. 26-33.
Art therapy is a form of expressive psychotherapy that uses the process of creating art to improve social, mental, and emotional outcomes. It is based on the theory that trauma is stored in memory as imagery, and art-therapy allows for effective processing of this imagery. The Art Therapy Institute in North Carolina provides art-based counseling services to adolescent refugees from Burma. Upon evaluation, this program showed improvements in anxiety and self-concept among refugee youth. Researchers also propose that future studies should acknowledge that symptom-focused assessment tools may not be adequate in capturing clients' growth resulting from arts-based interventions.  Future evaluations are recommended to use an art-based assessment tool and qualitative interviews to avoid language barriers and focus on positive posttraumatic growth.
Parisian, K. (2015).
Art Therapy, 32(3), pp.130-135.
Intergenerational immigrant families often experience conflict due to cultural differences between immigrant parents and their US-born children. A cross-cultural approach to art therapy can help bridge cultural divides as well as help clients process their experiences through different mediums of art. This article is a longitudinal case study of Allen, a second generation Filipino American who experienced racism and discrimination growing up in a predominantly White neighborhood in the state of Illinois. Allen became ashamed of his Filipino culture, creating constant conflict between Allen and his parents. Allen was also depressed and socially isolated. Through his school's therapeutic day programming, Allen began art therapy. Allen was exposed to various mediums of art including joint art making with his therapist, using markers, photography, paint, etc. Through such forms Allen was able to convey his emotions and feelings. Allen also participated in family art therapy with his parents where they were able to establish commonalities through their collaborative art activities. Allen began interacting with his peers, maintained a healthy weight, and decreased his unpredictable behaviors. 
Kalmanowitz, D. & Rainbow, T. (2016).
The Arts in Psychotherapy, 49, pp. 57-65.
Art therapy and mindfulness techniques can be integrated to treat refugees and asylum seekers experiencing trauma and PTSD. Art therapy for trauma survivors can incorporate various therapeutic techniques, including creative expressive approaches, psychodynamic approaches, cognitive behavioral therapy, and others. Mindfulness can increase the ability of an individual to handle their emotions rather than escape from them, thereby assisting in emotional processing and regulation. An art therapy and mindfulness workshop with refugees and asylum seekers in Hong Kong revealed how the overlap of these techniques can help individuals in several key ways, including coping with loss, increasing self-awareness, practicing catharsis, making meaning, and regulating emotions.

Lee, S. Y. (2015). 
Art Therapy32(3), 120-129.
Immigrant families experience acculturative stress during immigration experiences which leads to acculturation gaps among family members. The children of immigrants often acculturate faster, causing communication issues among parents and their children. In addition, marital tension among parents ensues due to a shift in authority and earning income between spouses. Art therapy has been used to help immigrants communicate their complex experiences of immigration and acculturation. Moreover, flow in art therapy, which is a high skill task or challenge as perceived by the individual, results in feelings of fulfillment once the task is accomplished. This study explores therapeutic flow seeking behaviors through art therapy with recently immigrated children from South Korea. The children used clay as a medium to share their experiences and found three main themes: role reversal in immigrant families, locked out of opportunities, and communication challenges between parent and child. Flow indicators within art therapy showed that children saw numerous possibilities to use different mediums of art to engender their creativity. Furthermore, self-assignment motivated the children's independence while self-correction instigated problem-solving.

Creative arts in research for community and cultural change
By McLean, C.L. & Kelly, R. (Eds.)
Detselig Enterprises (2011)
McLean and Kelly's volume is a compilation of interdisciplinary accounts of innovative and pioneering art initiatives promoting social change within diverse communities. Of particular interest is the third section entitled, "Arts Exploring Immigrant Experience and Cultural Identities." Article topics range from utilizing art as a tool to support asylum-seeking women to an exploration of the use of participatory theater to address health disparities in a Latinx immigrant community. Through its focus on the wide array of creative arts programs implemented by immigrant communities in the service of creating social and cultural change, this book is a valuable contribution to the research and practice literature. 

Art in action: Expressive arts therapy and social change
By Levine, E. & Levine, S.K.
Jessica Kingsley Publishers (2011)
A critical element of expressive arts therapy is its potential to effect therapeutic change for individuals as well as to promote social change within the larger community and sociopolitical environment. The articles in this book - drawn from expressive arts practitioners around the world - illustrate the plethora of possibilities for change and healing that can result from creating space for clients to express their "most fundamental experiences." Spanning several continents and numerous areas of the world these practitioners highlight how effective expressive arts therapeutic interventions must be responsive to the reality of varying environmental, social, and political contexts. 

Reading and expressive writing with traumatized children, young refugees, and asylum seekers: Unpack my heart with words
By Baraitser, M. 
Jessica Kingsley Publishers (2014)
Baraitser draws on extensive experience implementing biblio/narrative therapy with children and youth with traumatic histories to outline the research basis and practical elements of this therapeutic intervention. The author explores how the "reading, discussion, and rewriting of carefully selected texts" utilizes the intertwined cognitive processes of creativity, memory, and language - and how these processes contribute to the refugee child's ability to process destructive traumatic experiences. The author provides a detailed discussion of how to implement an ethical and culturally sensitive expressive arts intervention with refugee children and youth based on the written and spoken word. 

Art therapists, refugees, and migrants: Reaching across borders
By Dokter, D. (Ed.)
Jessica Kingsley Publishers (1998)
An older addition to the literature on cross-cultural art therapy with refugees and migrants, this volume continues to provide a solid foundation for understanding the role of expressive arts therapy in mitigating the mental health needs of displaced persons and communities. Contributing authors particularly focus on the traumatic loss and "deterioration of cultural identity" experienced by many refugees and forced migrants, as well as how expressive arts therapy can be utilized in response. By advocating for a more inclusive and culturally aware art therapy framework, these 15 essays encourage cultural sensitivity for all who support the psychosocial restoration and healing of refugees and the displaced.

Vilcek Foundation (2016)
Resources exploring the intersection between art and immigration, including pieces from novelists Yiyun Li, Gary Shteyngart, Ha Jin, Francine Prose, and one from poet Ken Chen.

Migration Now: Justseeds & CultureStrike (2017)
A portfolio of handmade prints addressing migrant issues from Justseeds and CultureStrike

Expressive Arts Therapies with Survivors of Torture
Center for Victims of Torture (2010)
A webinar exploring the use of expressive arts therapies with survivors of torture.

Teaching Tolerance (2017)
Lesson plans and resources for K-5 classroom teachers discussing the topic of "Art and Activism." Lesson plans can also be utilized by caregivers, social workers, and others who work with young children. 

American Art Therapy Association (2016)
A series of online courses available for purchase that cover art therapy with cross-cultural populations, including a seminar on lessons learned from utilizing art therapy with resettled Burmese refugees.
Gulf Coast JFCS (2016)
A webinar focusing on body-based art therapy interventions and exploration of frameworks that encourage holistic health care.

BRYCS (2016)
Immigrant and refugee youth speak about their experiences coming to the United States and give advice to newcomers, teens, and teachers.

Welcoming America (2015) 
A toolkit called "America Needs All of Us" that aims to promote racial equity and offers strategies on how to address, and eliminate, bias and prejudice directed at immigrants and refugees.
Follow Professor Egmont on  Twitter @wegmont
EDITORS: E. Camacho (managing editor), F. Crutchfield-Stoker, W. Egmont, B. Schmid, E. Siskind, A. Spratley, M. Tepper, D. Maglalang & J. Verkamp