I have been an art therapist for almost thirty years. In my early years as a student and new professional I was not familiar with the art therapists of color who were pioneers in the profession. As I have come to know more about these art therapists and their work, and the important contributions they have made in identifying oppression and promoting social change and social justice, I have been eager to learn more; I have been especially interested in hearing their stories in their words.
To that end, I was fortunate to be able to talk with Charles Anderson, BFA, ATR, who became an art therapist in the 1970s , when art therapy was developing as a profession. In this blog, I will highlight portions of my interview with Mr. Anderson, particularly those where he discusses his impact on the profession in both the early years and his work currently.
Charles Anderson, an artist with a BFA from the University of Kansas Topeka, was working with children at the Menniger Clinic as an activities therapist. He was able to earn his ATR by tallying his direct client hours through the provision of a 1973 ‘grandfather clause’ (Anderson, 2018). In the years before the ATCB was created, hours were approved through a committee of the American Art Therapy Association. Mr. Anderson took his hours to his supervisor at Menniger, who then directed them to Bob Ault, who submitted them to the registration committee for review. He recalls being granted his ATR in 1987. In those days, there was no board certification; the ATR was the top credential.
Mr. Anderson says that credentialing was important to him because it opened his horizons. He was able to access trainings, read extensively about theory, and to develop a deeper understanding of the effect of using art with his patients. He also remembers the “camaraderie” with other art therapists was “inspirational” (Anderson, 2018). I asked Mr. Anderson, in looking back over his art therapy career, what has been most important to him. He replied that he has “always had a passion for helping people” (Anderson, 2018). The AATA, he says, helped him broaden the reach of that passion. In particular, he cites his years on the multicultural committee as an important part of his work.
I next asked Mr. Anderson what had been some of the roles he has held as an art therapist. In addition to his clinical work and contributions to the AATA, Mr. Anderson has been an adjunct faculty at Avila College in Kansas City, Missouri and also Emporia State University, where he taught both an art therapy course and a multicultural course. He returned to his Alma Mater and created an introduction to art therapy course. He says he “talked them into” expanding the offerings by adding an introductory creative arts therapies course. He contracted with a dance/movement therapist, music therapist, and drama therapist to create the course (Anderson, 2018).
Mr. Anderson served on the item-writing committee for the ATCB for two years; his specialty in writing questions for the board certification exam was multicultural issues and working with multicultural groups. He was the first chair of AATA’s multicultural committee which was called at the time the Mosaic Committee; he served three years as chair. He mentioned it was exhausting at times, and often conflictual, as the committee made panel presentations and facilitated workshops at the annual conferences on various multicultural issues and themes (Anderson, 2018).
Mr. Anderson served locally as a member of a mayoral council on cultural diversity. He found the work important because of the bias many patients of color in his clinical setting experienced. He said he noticed early on that individuals being admitted for care were being diagnosed with pathologies that were actually cultural expressions and differences and he was passionate about bringing this problem to light (Anderson, 2018).
Mr. Anderson continues his important work and engagement. He participated in the Aaron Bellart exhibit in Topeka in 2016. He has presented to faith-based groups on depression, suicide, and anger management. He delivered a slide presentation at the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in 2012 and has presented parts of it again over the years, most recently at Veteran’s Day events in 2017 and 2018. That presentation came about as a response to the crisis Mr. Anderson experienced in the 1960s. He coped, he says, by making art, both photography and drawing. He says the music of the time was so important to him and he would create drawings that matched the messages in the music he loved. He collaborated with a poet who put words to the feelings and events. These expressions are what later became the presentation. The original slide presentation called “My Journey Through Art Therapy,” he says, is available via a link in AATA’s trade journal Art Therapy Today (Anderson, 2018) .
C. Anderson (personal communication, October 29, 2018)
Art Therapy Credential Board National Office