Art to Heal: A Local Artist’s Journey to Overcome the Obstacles of Life

Over the past few weeks I have come to learn more about Austin State Hospital, or ASH, and their various art programs and events. Since 1857 Austin State Hospital has provided psychiatric care to those with mental illnesses in Austin and the State of Texas. The hospital has a creative arts therapy program for current patients as well as a strategic plan to create a community Arts Space where individuals with mental illnesses can go to continue their healing process after being discharged through dance, visual arts, music and drama.  This past Friday, I checked them out for myself.  I had the pleasure of meeting with Bess Green, Art Therapist at ASH, and Susan Lee, an artist and current patient.


The proposed design of ASH’s Art Space

The creative arts therapy program is one of their most successful at ASH, and is centered on the idea that healing can happen not only through traditional therapy and medication but also through creativity and art.  The Arts Space project, in its first phase of funding, hopes to be a continuance of the creative arst therapy program and stretch beyond current patients so as to stop the “revolving door scenario” of those recovering having to be hospitalized again.   The Arts Space would be a place where artists like Susan would be able to come and use space to create their art not only as an outlet for healing but also to further themselves as professional artists.

Susan Lee, a published author and emerging artist has always seen art as a way to release pent-up energy and frustrations.  She has also seen it as a way to connect with others when she cannot always say what she wants to verbally.  Her art, for me, is delicate yet also strong with vibrant colors and solid line work.  She says her favorite drawings to create are depictions of Jesus, a passion that can be seen in her drawings.

Acrylic by Susan Lee. Photo by Katie

Drawing by Susan Lee. Photo by Katie

Watercolor by Susan Lee. Photo by Katie

Ms. Lee’s book, Baphomet: The Apocalypse, which can be purchased at, is what she describes as a comedy tragedy.  It is a story of her journey as a foster child struggling to find her way to enlightenment and the many dark people and places she encounters on the way.

“I met him on a sweet warm night, that vampire Brad. It was not that he drank of blood but that his empathy lavished in the power of auras.   Many other maidens had been lured in by his reasons for conceit.  I was one of them…Slick locks gowned his face to the brow, a sinister split in the middle…His piercing blue eyes are what made the best of him.  They had known murder. “

                                              – An excerpt from Baphomet: The Apocalypse, by Susan Lee

Cover art for Baphomet: The Apocalypse by Susan Lee. Photo by Katie

Susan started creating art at a very young age.  She was always pushed by adults around her to draw, “instead of playing with dolls and toys like most other kids do, I was drawing”.   Her usual medium is acrylic; however with constraints at the hospital, most of her current work is drawings and watercolors.  Susan modestly describes her work as more cartoonish. I viewed it as refreshingly simplistic.  Not simplistic as in lacking, but quite the opposite; complex because of its simplicity.  While Susan’s current situation may not be her ideal, she looks at it with optimism and room for growth.  Or in her words, “It is better to laugh than cry”.

Watercolor by Susan Lee. Photo by Katie

Acrylic by Susan Lee. Photo by Katie

More of Susan Lee’s work can be found on

To make a donation to the ASH Arts Space, creative arts therapy program, or other programs at ASH please click here.

ASH’s creative arts program is also looking for volunteers! Are you an artist in any discipline looking to lend your talents?  Click here!

Blog by Katie


The Music Bus ROCKS! Local musicians share their talent with kids and the nation

With funding in the arts being continuously cut from school programs we are losing touch with the benefits music has on our lives. That is why The Music Bus ROCKS! has created a mobile environment where the arts can flourish right outside your door. With raising gas prices everyone is taking a hit in their wallets, they save you fuel and time by coming to you!

The Music Bus ROCKS! is a fully interactive music technology classroom that provides a hands-on learning environment for each and every student. Students are able to take advantage of on board computers and music technology software. The Bus is outfitted with a full digital piano and acoustic drum set. They teach every instrument family on the bus and have a high regard for cross training and being able to see, touch, and hear other instruments.

This year, The Music Bus ROCKS! has been invited to Wakarusa Music Festival, a grassroots festival nestled in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas where the beauty of nature synchronizes with the euphoric sounds of live music. They have programming for the festival that will include a junkyard orchestra ensemble with instruments that will be made from re-purposed hardware materials and supplies. In addition, every day of the festival The Music Bus ROCKS! will hold drum circles, jam sessions (in which audience members are strongly encouraged to participate) and music education workshops.

Their ability to be able to share this creatively educational experience with patrons of Wakarusa will give them the ability to spread the word about their work and eventually build a potential donor base that will help partially fund our aspirations of beginning a Non-Profit sponsored project version of The Music Bus ROCKS! that covers a broader spectrum of the arts (visual art, music, dance, theatre, physics of movement, etc.).

The Impact

The Music Bus ROCKS!  wants to be able to share the gift of music with as many people as possible and believe that Wakarusa will give them the visibility that they will need in order to boost donor funds for our sponsored project version of The MBR! They’ve expressed the desire to go into the areas of Austin that are losing arts programs due to federal and state budget cuts and reinstate to children the profound value that the arts have on our personal well being.

blog by Nnedi Agbaroji

“Way of the Heart” Kirtan and Workshop with Krishna Das

Poster design by Lucas

Jai Jai Raam! This was a special weekend for those who joined Krishna Das for his first Kirtan and Workshop, held at the Central Presbyterian Church, here in Austin. For those of you not familiar with Kirtan, by definition, is Indian devotional music, chanting the names of God.

At Friday night’s Kirtan, Krishna Das, (KD), was accompanied by Arjun Bruggeman, tabla player, and Mark Gorman, on electric bass guitar. KD who is known as the “Rock Star” of Kirtan, brought us a lively and spiritually intoxicating experience. In the style of music known as “call and response”, (used in many cultures), they rocked the house! Many of us in the audience got up to dance.

Photo courtesy of Greg Jordan

At Saturday’s Workshop, there was more chanting and KD answered questions from the audience, told stories of his life experience, traveling to meet his Guru in India and his path back to the States. In KD’s usual style of humor he had us laughing. His love and devotion for his teacher Neem Karoli Baba, lead him to realize he needed to sing, specifically with other people. This evolved into what would become a life’s work of devotional singing.

It was 15 years ago in 1997, when I first heard of Krishna Das. At that time I was living in northern California, in a valley below Mount Tamalpais, in a very small, Japanese tea house. It felt like one of the most hidden places on the planet, far away from my native NYC. Strangely, it was there that I felt most connected. It was during a life-changing experience and an adventurous period in my life, a perfect place to reflect. I am sure I was led there for this reason. It was then I made my first connection to KD and a world of experience that would prove to be meaningful in my life.

Just when I thought I was living alone on the edge of the universe, I met my neighbor, (also recently from NY) who was handling Public Relations for KD. She took me to my first Kirtan, gave me his first CD’s and that was it! Since then, after moving back to New York City, it became one of the treasures in my life, a ritual I would look forward to. Now living in Austin, I really missed it.

Photo courtesy of Greg Jordan

Finally, KD has put Austin on his tour schedule, thanks to his dear friend Amparo Garcia-Crow of “Inspirit Studios” who together with Becky Jordan of “Heart of Texas Yoga” brought us this event. I was honored to be asked to contribute the design of the poster and flyer.

Krishna Das inspires us to remember who we truly are and what we are really looking for is within us. We look forward to having KD back again so that we can continue this uplifting tradition of chanting that brings us all home, here in Austin.

For more about Krishna Das, go to

Blog by Lucas