How Bringing Art to Native Communities is making the World a Better Place

Center School Artwork
Artwork from the Center School

Pat Welch, a current Art Therapy student, grew up in a Native community with indigenous world views. She has continually worked with kids in Native groups finding value and belonging by combining art and people. In the early 90’s, she was a Member of the Ordway Center for Performing Arts Cultural Advisory Counsel. She spent two years at a Native Youth Theater Project that focused on indigenous writers, involving kids in viewing theatre performances, and kids creating plays. These plays showed the interdependence of the native values: everyone plays a role. She started a Native American doula program working with young, pregnant, American Indian women teaching traditional birthing and parenting while accompanying the women through labor and birth. Pat helped women find strength, significance, the courage to be imperfect in the Native American Family Center before finding her way to the Centre School. It is here Pat found her calling: passion for empowering a cohesive group working with kids.

Center Student & ArtworkWhen Pat turned 50-years old, she asked herself “What do I want to achieve before I leave this planet?” In that moment, she decided to take the leap into earning her bachelor’s degree at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and continuing on to a master’s degree through Adler Graduate School. Pat choose AGS for it’s local appeal knowing nothing of Adlerian philosophy.

In time, Pat had an epiphany: the Adlerian philosophies mimic those in her Native roots. While the words to describe the ideas may be different, their core values are undeniable: finding the balance to be healthy and the ideals of how generational and historical trauma effect the perceptions of ourselves.

Center students creating artworkTwo years ago, the Center School won a million-dollar school grant for three years allowing Pat to make her dreams within her counseling career come true. Her vision since she was 16-years of age, came true. Pat believes in advocating against who we are told to be and who we accept ourselves to truly be. She works with high risk urban Native kids ages 12-21 in school. Pat’s approach to working with the kids in the program is different. She treats them as powerful individuals: motherly and understanding. Kids refer to her as “OG, the original gangster,” a term near and dear to her heart.

Through Pat’s program, the individuals learn self-realization through kinetic sand, coping skills, sense of belonging and self through sensory level activities. At any point in time during the school day, students may enter her art studio. They talk; they paint; they grow. On a weekly occasion, a group of students can help make dinner and enjoy it together at a table. For many, it is the only time they have a “family meal”. Pat also shows teachers trauma-informed education to allow success of the student who experience trauma. This program is the first funded program to combine art and mental health with urban Native communities.

Center student working on artworkPat works with Native children in making therapy accessible in a group context. Pat’s goal is to develop her current program into a place for everyone outside of the school. Where most kids are discouraged, Pat’s program allows the individual the ability to finish something: building success and positivity.

Ask yourself, “What do I want to leave this planet with?” Pat did and found her life’s journey, dream, and task. Adler Graduate School is proud to be apart of Pat’s journey to bringing awareness, advocacy, and diminishing the mental health stigma that surrounds Native communities. To find out how you can do your part in leaving this planet without a mental health stigma and more about AGS programs, click here.