Cottage Grove, Health & Wellness, Springfield

Hands-on healing

‘Art as therapy’ amplified in local businesses

Art provides all people, regardless of ability or skill, with a creative space to clear their heads and decompress from their busy and often stressful lives. From painting mugs to decorating cookies, there is no limit on what visual expressions may qualify as art. 

Intersections of mental health and art are widely recognized in the medical field. Studies have found that the amount of cortisol, a hormone produced by the body’s adrenal glands, is increased in the body when the person is experiencing above-average stress.

“There have been plenty of studies to show that cortisol levels can be decreased when we engage in the arts and the positive impacts that it can have on our mental health,” according to Doctor Frank Clark, a psychiatrist and member of the American Medical Association. He noted that one study found that 75% of the participants’ cortisol levels lowered during their 45 minutes of making art.

Jennifer MacLean, National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) Lane County executive director,  emphasized that while she is not a mental health professional, agrees that art can be therapeutic.

MacLean said NAMI Lane County, located in Springfield, recently partnered with Materials Exchange Center for Community Arts in Eugene “to provide mental health art classes because we do know through scientific research what art and tactile art does for yourself and the community.” The intention was for people to “create whatever they wanted and needed in that moment” while practicing “self-led creativity.”

Art as therapy in our communities

Some local businesses got their start because their owners’ chosen artform was therapeutic for them.

In early 2020, Judy Smith’s best friend suggested she make a rather elaborate cookie box. She just laughed at her at the time. But when her best friend passed away shortly after, Smith made that elaborate cookie box in her memory. “It lit the fire in (her)” to continue working with cookies as her chosen art medium, she said.

Once the COVID-19 lockdowns began, Smith decorated cookies at home and placed them on her neighbors’ doorsteps anonymously, simply “because the world needed to smile.”

“It was a way to have a connection with the world even though we all felt so helpless,” Smith said.

Those random acts of kindness inspired her business name: Random Acts of Cookies, a custom cookie business which also offers decorating classes and parties. The Cottage Grove-based business that doesn’t have a storefront, but instead collaborates with local businesses to host, invites folks to its private cookie shop, and hosts private classes in people’s homes. 

Smith said she was inspired to start this business after using cookie decorating to combat the depression she felt after both her friend’s passing and pandemic isolation. She echoed all sentiments that art as therapy is healing and effective, having been her own case study.

Judy Smith of Random Acts of Cookies in Cottage Grove hosts a cookie decorating party.

Other local businesses have also created ways for community members to experience art as therapy. Eugene’s Potters Quarter and Springfield’s Made By You both focus on providing spaces where people can paint pottery.

Dana Krizan took ownership of Potters Quarter at 2848 Willamette St. in November 2023. He said this business “fits me like a glove,” since he’s “an artist at heart.”

“Now that I’ve taken this business over, I’m not really seeing it as much of a business as a community. This is a business, but at the same time, there’s really a need. There’s a growing need, due to mental health, for these types of businesses,” he said. “It’s a service. … It’s more about the atmosphere and the vibe of the place than anything else.”

Krizan said his customers are “very interested in their mental health, and they come here for their decompression time.” Because of this, Krizan said he hopes to get a catering service going for Potters Quarter so it can reach elderly care facilities and people who can’t physically get to the shop.

“I was a paramedic for most of my life, so it’s in me to need to help people,” Krizan said. “This could be a valuable community tool for the mental health issues that we’re experiencing.”

In Springfield, Made By You owner Cindy Koza said her favorite memories from growing up are those when she was doing arts and crafts with her family.

“A lot of people have told me they have the same memories of growing up and being able to do it, and now all those (business owners) have retired, and there’s not a whole lot of people opening new shops,” she said. “I wanted to be able to do that with my kids. … Then I saw this building, and I thought that it’d be the perfect studio.” The store opened at 715 Main St. in December.

Since her background is in caregiving, Koza said she has worked to make Made By You especially accessible in both the physical shop, with the open floor plan and ADA bathrooms, and financially. 

10-year-old Noe Valladolid paints his chosen pottery with focus.

She said she noticed that art could be therapeutic for her after analyzing her sleeping schedule.

“I was having a hard time sleeping, and I was stressed out, but on the days that I was painting, I would go home and sleep well,” she said.

Koza and Kat Marelli, store manager, are in the process of earning certification to be art therapists, a profession that requires a master’s degree and extensive experience hours. The goal of an art therapist is to succeed where talk therapy methods cannot. It uses artistic processes like sculpting, drawing, and painting to draw conclusions, develop individualized treatment plans, and guide clients through artistic self-expression to promote recovery from a specific stressor.

In the medical field, art therapy is credited with improving cognitive and sensory-motor functions; cultivating emotional resilience; enhancing social skills; promoting insight; and fostering self-esteem and self-awareness.

Marelli said she’s passionate about becoming certified because she wants to provide the community with art therapy, to establish a safe place to exist, and to promote art.

“Not all of us fit into a cookie cutter, so we might try traditional therapies, and they may not work,” she said. “I went from painting for fun to having the deeper realization that more than fun, it’s cleansing and emotionally healing.”



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