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The Healing Power of Art & Community

Founder of local nonprofit OURS Art Foundation helps San Diegan's heal through drawing, painting, crafting jewelry, & other creative outlets
Marcia Johnson, founder of the OURS Art Foundation, a San Diego nonprofit focused on helping victims of trauma through art therapy, in her pottery studio

When Marcia Johnson was searching for a beneficiary for her family’s foundation roughly 20 years ago, she didn’t know the seemingly normal yarn store she came upon would permanently change her trajectory. The shop was surreptitiously providing domestic violence counseling. 

“They would tell their abuser that they were taking a knitting class, and then they would be getting counseling,” she says. “Someone would even be knitting their project so that when they went home, it would be farther along. It stuck with me, and I wanted to do something like that.”

Johnson was inspired to channel her own creativity into a way to help people in need. She initially thought a similar storefront was a possibility, but “didn’t want to recreate the wheel.” Instead, she launched OUR Arts Foundation—OUR stands for Outreach, Understanding, and Resilience—in 2019 and began working with existing nonprofits to teach art classes to their participants. 

OUR Arts Foundation works with victims of sex trafficking, those fleeing relationship violence, foster youth who have aged out of the system, and others. Johnson and volunteer artists teach workshops and allow participants to express themselves in various mediums. It’s not traditional art therapy. There’s no pressure to open up or share personal stories; the focus is on drawing, painting, candle making, crafting jewelry, or whatever the creative outlet may be. There’s also no emphasis on the end product—the process of creating is the most important thing. 

“I’ve been a ceramic artist since I was 16 and I know from going through some difficult things in my life that art really heals. It just gets you to reconnect with your emotions and be able to express them in a nonverbal way,” she says. 

Marcia Johnson, founder of the OURS Art Foundation, a San Diego nonprofit focused on helping victims of trauma through art therapy, throwing a bowl on a pottery wheel

Johnson stresses that her organization is just a small piece in a person’s recovery, though artistic expression does help people cope with trauma and heal emotional wounds. 

“We don’t ask questions about what kind of trauma they’ve had because that’s their private life. We just are trying to help them find a pathway to healing,” she says.

OUR Arts Foundation is now hoping to add to its roster of volunteer teachers and “helping hands” assistants so they can branch out and work with local nonprofits that serve people experiencing homelessness and those in addiction recovery. 

“It’s rewarding for them, but it’s also rewarding for the volunteers,” Johnson says. “If somebody volunteers once, they’re hooked. They want to come back and volunteer again and again and again because it’s about the connections. To see someone create something and be so proud of it is really fun.”

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