The place known casually as "The Ranch" is ringed by piles of junk. Strangely attired mannequins, mysterious parts, and half-built contraptions litter the dusty landscape. To its owner, Betty Voss, what appears to be junk is but a beginning for healing creativity.

Since 1962, the artist has been one of San Bernardino (Calif.) County's leading lights to gang members, kids under court probation, child-abuse victims, and disabled children who can't figure out how to make life work. She has converted a collection of barns, bungalows, and trailers into an outdoor puppet amphitheater and studios for pottery throwing, glass blowing, puppet making, painting, and other artistic endeavors.

Voss, an energetic fifty-something, has always been a Christian in a field that avoids the mention of God and healing. Her face is creased by smile lines, and she chuckles that the Art Therapy Association of America "can't deny that there's something in art beyond their explanations of it. They still don't get as far as God, but they could see we were taking very hardcore probation kids, and they were being changed."

Voss employs art initially to establish trust and rapport, drawing out the childlike creative urge suppressed by extreme emotional trauma. "Because we are all made in the image of a Creator God," she insists, "we each have creativity within us. Following our own creative ability really leads us back to God, the original Creator-the original Artist," she says.

Artmaking is a nonthreatening, nonverbal conduit for buried emotions. Recent research is finally offering scientific support for physical strategies in art therapy. For example, there is now proof that manual activities, like handling clay or worry beads, release healing chemicals into our bodies.

Voss, who has witnessed the salutary benefits of art for three decades, remembers one of her first cases. "This little guy with a brain tumor, in remission, began hurting again, and even the doctors didn't understand why. I asked him to 'animate' his pain [like a cartoon]," Voss remembers, "and he sketched a tunnellike thing. He was claustrophobic-frightened of the cat-scan machine." The drawing revealed the problem, and then a solution could be found for the boy's pain. With Voss's help, he became the resident cat-scan expert, gladly counseling other patients.

When viewed more as a process than an end product, art gives an outlet for a range of emotions. For example, Voss says, "Throwing clay at plywood is a great way to express anger. But it's merely a release. It doesn't accomplish everything we want. The kids literally have to turn their anger into something creative, not destructive. We help them see forms in the thrown clay. They finish it off." In the process of redeeming a formless mass of clay, a victim's battered self-identity can also be redeemed by positive, affirmed activity.

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Recently, Voss was astounded during a therapy session between Cornelius Austin, a Vietnam vet, and a kid who survived a drive-by shooting at a McDonald's. The boy, who Austin describes as "totally dead inside," had pressed his T-shirt to a victim's bloody wound to try to stop the bleeding. His emotional breakthrough occurred when he drew the image of his hand grasping a gory piece of cloth. Austin's own cathartic image about his Vietnam experience, where his spine was severed by a bullet, was virtually identical. In an instant, the two shared a profound, unspeakable pain. Austin recalls, "That image, and my understanding of it, validated the truth of the awful thing he witnessed." Art helped the boy accept the trauma of his experience-a necessary first step in being able to figure out how to get on with life.

For both Voss and Austin, there is more behind healing. Austin says, "These kids don't know that perfect love casts out fear"; it is art that has helped him communicate this message to hardened teens.

And that's life at the Ranch.

By Karen L. Mulder.


Summer '95 Faith and Arts Conferences

Dance "Festival '95," an interfaith celebration of the spiritual life through dance forms; sponsor: Sacred Dance Guild; August 9-16; Honolulu, HI; expected attendance: 400; main speakers: Carla De Sola, Leah Mann; 618/457-8603

Music-Ecclesiastical "Choristers Guild Summer Seminar," workshops to train clinicians to nurture the spiritual growth of children and youth through music; sponsor: Choristers Guild; July 23; Grand Rapids, MI; expected attendance: 400; 214/271-1521; fax: 214/840-3113

Music-Classical "Inaugural Conference," first gathering of Christians who compose serious concert music; sponsor: Christian Fellowship of Art Music Composers; September 29-30; Houghton College, Houghton, NY; expected attendance: 50; main speaker: Patrick Kavanaugh; 716/567-4707 or 9424

Music-Contemporary "Christian Artists Seminar in the Rockies," concerts and over 150 daily seminars on worship, drama, music ministry, and the arts; sponsor: Christian Artists Corporation; July 30-August 5; Estes Park, CO; expected attendance: 1,000; main speakers: Bill Gaither, Bryan Duncan, Susan Ashton, Babbie Mason, Wayne Watson; 800/755-7464; fax: 303/452-3411

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"Cornerstone Festival '95," Christian rock concerts; round-the-clock multi-disciplinary seminars and fellowship meetings on music and arts; sponsor: Jesus People USA; June 29-July 2; Bushnell, IL; Steve Taylor, Phil Keaggy, Glenn Kaiser; 312/989-2087

Music-Sacred "GTU Sacred Music Conference," worship services, recitals, concerts, and extensive displays of music, books, and materials for ecclesiastic use; sponsor: Pacific School of Religion/Graduate Theological Union; July 17-21; Berkeley, CA; expected attendance 300; main speakers: Joyce Jones (organ), Marika Kuzma (conducting), Mary Cobb-Hill (spirituals), Steven Roberts (gospel music); 800/999-0528

Performing Arts "Messengers for Hope," workshops in clowning, mime, storytelling, puppetry, dance; sponsor: Phoenix Power and Light Co., Inc.; August 3-6; Rochester, NY; expected attendance: 250; 1-800/258-5323

Theater "1995 North American Networking Conference," venue for the best in Christian theater performance and for the support and equipping of Christians working in theater arts; national auditions will be held for numerous resident Christian theater companies; sponsor: Christians in Theatre Arts (CITA); June 8-10; Point Loma, CA; expected attendance 500; main presenters: Lamb's Players Theatre, Riding Lights Theatre of England; 803/271-2116; fax: 803 /271-2116

Visual Arts "Collaboration," juried and nonjuried exhibits, critique sessions, seminars, workshops, plenary sessions that will delve into the significance of collaborative art efforts within varying social/religious contexts; sponsor: Christians in the Visual Arts (CIVA); July 28-29; Berkeley, CA; expected attendance 400; main speakers: Tom Sine, Nicholas Wolterstorff; 612/378-0606; fax in PA: 717/691-6042

Visual Arts and Religious Communities "On the Visual Arts and Religious Communities," to explore the progress of arts and religion for the last 30 years in the context of the international arts scene; bringing to light differences and affinities among cultural and religious traditions; sponsor: care, Center for the Arts, Religion and Education; July 31-August 4; Berkeley, CA; expected attendance: 500; main speakers: John Dillenberger, Moshe Safdie, Stephen de Staebler, Horst Schwebel, Wilson Yates; 800/999-0528

Writing "The Glen: A Writer's Workshop," writing workshop and multidisciplinary survey of current literary trends; sponsor: Image journal; August 19-25; Glen Eyrie, CO; expected attendance: 300; main speaker: poet Richard Wilbur; 316/942-4291 x278; fax: 316/942-4483

List compiled with the help of Christians in the Arts Networking, Inc., Arlington, MA.


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