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Art Beat
A weekly look at creativity, arts, and culture in southwest Michigan, hosted by Zinta Aistars.Fridays in Morning Edition at 7:50am and at 4:20pm during All Things Considered.

Art Beat: The Healing Power Of Art

Andy Robins

The Kalamazoo YWCA, 353 East Michigan Avenue, is on a mission to eliminate racism, empower women, stand up for social justice, help families, and strengthen communities. No one takes that mission more seriously and with more passion than CEO Grace Lubwama. Art is just one of the many ways she and the Y help women and children heal and find their voices.

“We work with a lot of families that have been traumatized,” Lubwama says. “Just living in poverty, the trauma that is created…children come to us because of abuse. We have been fortunate to be really creative and intentional in bringing in different therapeutic approaches. Art has been one of them. Drawing, dancing, painting, music - all kinds of things that help families heal.”

A conversation with Grace Lubwama

The Kalamazoo YWCA offers victim services, a children’s center, and various women’s initiatives. The children’s center welcomes kids ages 6 weeks to kindergarten, and hosts a program called Little Seeds. It helps children learn coping skills for school and home. In cases of violence, human trafficking, and sexual assault, the YWCA supports women by providing shelter, crisis intervention, and advocacy. All programs are free and no one is turned away.

Credit Kalamazoo YWCA
Kalamazoo YWCA
Kalamazoo YWCA CEO Grace Lubwama

Although there is a misperception that domestic violence hits low-income people hardest, Lubwama says that isn't true.

“Unfortunately, domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking have no boundaries. They don’t care if you are poor, they don’t care about dress, they don’t care about social income or education.”

Lubwama says up to 60 percent of crimes prosecuted in Kalamazoo County are connected to some kind of domestic violence. She says, on average, women leave their abuser 11 times before they are successful. And no time is more dangerous than during and immediately after departure. In many cases, Lubwama says the safety of pets is what keeps women in abusive situations. For that reason, the Kalamazoo YWCA works with the local animal shelter and foster homes to care for pets until women find a new place to live.

“We are also always looking out for people who want to volunteer, who have empathy (for those) at their most vulnerable point, and want to be a part of that journey to help themselves and others,” Lubwama says. Both paid staff and volunteers teach various types of artistic expression as art therapy.

Grace Lubwama received her BA in Fine Arts and Industrial Design from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda; her master’s in public health and international health from Boston University in Boston, Mass., and is completing her PhD in policy, planning and development from the University of Southern California.

The YWCA emergency 24-hour crisis line is (269) 385 -3587. Call 345-5595 for general information.

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