By Jannette J. Witmyer
Special to the AFRO
Paul Braswell is brimming with excitement about the work his nonprofit organization Art Health & Healing (AH&H) has been doing, using art as a source of healing, and how it all came to be. Actually, it was a natural fit. Braswell, a kidney transplant recipient who spent nine years on dialysis, has 35 years of experience as a registered nurse and began collecting art more than 25 years ago. As a patient with a professional background in healthcare, he saw how art affected his recovery, firsthand.
“I realized while recovering from my kidney transplant that the art within my home was healing for me,” Braswell said.
He recognized that if art could help him, then he could use it to help others.
“So basically, what I’ve been doing is using art as a therapeutic tool to assist individuals with chronic medical conditions or life-changing indicators, through different types of art,” he explains.
AH&H strives to engage individuals and groups through a wide variety of projects and programs, ranging from hands-on arts and crafts to visiting art exhibitions at galleries and museums. When presenting craft-making as an option, one of the main things that Braswell stresses is that arts and craft projects can be affordable.
“I tell people that what I’m doing is using things that you can find in your home, like an old T-shirt or shorts. Or you can go to the Good Will. Or you can go to the dollar store and spend just a few dollars,” he said.
As he develops ways to engage the community, Braswell relies heavily on his personal creativity to create opportunities to infuse art into the activity, health-related or not. While participating in the past election’s “Party at the Polls” in Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester Community, an event designed to encourage residents to vote, AH&H distributed instructions for a simple arts and crafts kit to attendees. His colorful personality has also earned him a bit of social media success on Art Health & Healing’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.
While the COVID-19 shutdown had a significant impact on AH&H’s ability to participate in in-person projects, it didn’t prevent the organization from making donations of artwork and supplies to Roberta’s House, Bon Secours Hospital, Davita Bertha-Sirk Dialysis Center and other organizations. Additionally, it allowed Braswell time to focus on developing strategies to strengthen the work of his 501(c)(3). There are plans for future collaborations in the works.
As soon as things began to re-open, Braswell returned to his work of advancing the notion of art as a factor in healing, while working as a nurse at Harford County’s Ripken Stadium COVID-19 vaccination site.
“I began to provide art and crafts for the 12-year-old and above during the observation phase after receiving the vaccine,” Braswell said. “They had to be observed for at least 15 to 30 minutes. So, I engaged the kids in the art to assist in their health and wellness after receiving their injections.”
For Braswell, art and healing go hand-in-hand and providing art as comfort after a needle was like having someone hold the child’s hand.
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