Glassblowing studio goes virtual

Firebird Community Arts uses glassblowing and ceramics as a medium for healing trauma

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Pascal Sabino/Block Club Chicago

A West Side ceramics and glassblowing studio is launching a free weeklong virtual art experience for neighbors struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.

The event series will also mark the debut of the studio's new name, Firebird Community Arts.

Normally, the art center uses glassblowing and wheel throwing as a medium for healing for young people who have experienced trauma. That pain has been further exacerbated by coronavirus.

Looking to help, Firebird Community Arts is using its virtual events as a way to share its trauma-informed programming with families who can benefit from the same therapeutic practices that have helped people on the West Side on their healing journeys.

In one of the virtual events, Project Fire youth will have a group discussion with clinical psychologist Dr. Bradley Stolbach about the importance of staying connected while social distancing. The conversation will provide a chance for young people to share how they navigate their thoughts and emotions through trying times so viewers can learn ways to cope with the isolation brought on by the pandemic.

"We go through way worse of trauma than just this pandemic," said Project Fire alumnus Deaunata Holman.

Holman said home is not a safe place for many people, which makes social distancing especially hard. That's why it has been so helpful to have supportive relationships and an outlet to talk about experiences and emotions, he said.

"And we all help each other get over our situations," Holman said. "It's like having a group of brothers and sisters."

Other events in the series will guide viewers through creative practices that can help them learn how to manage stress, isolation and anxiety.

Viewers can tune into a ceramics and flamework demonstration to get a taste of some of the workshops hosted by Firbird Community Arts. One session will include an interactive bookbinding demonstration that will show how residents stuck at home can make their own journal from scratch.

During another workshop, an artist will share meditative sketching techniques that activate different parts of the brain. Several events will also feature a short yoga session to help viewers relax and relieve tension.

The center's flagship program, Project Fire, combines glassblowing and ceramics with trauma training and group discussions led by social workers to help young people understand how their minds, bodies and emotions cope with the trauma they have experienced.

The program also offers employment opportunities for the young people who have participated, allowing them to lead workshops and teach glassblowing. Some of the virtual events will be led by former participants of Project Fire so their skills can support people struggling with the stress of the pandemic.

"Through their own experience and their trauma training with Project Fire, they have sort of become experts at processing trauma," said Karen Reyes, executive director of Firebird Community Arts. "Which, in a different way than the trauma they experienced initially, has become a really important skill for the general public these days in the pandemic.

"All these skills and practices that we've been developing … are now becoming relevant way outside of our niche population. We felt that that was something that we can share with people."

The digital events are each day through May 15 and can be accessed on Firebird Community Arts' Facebook page.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago. Read more Block Club Chicago here

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