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The City Journals

Healing Through Arts Unites Refugees and Community

Jul 29, 2016 08:23AM ● By Kelly Cannon

Guests view and discuss the artwork at the Healing Through Art gallery. —Kelly Cannon

By Kelly Cannon | [email protected]

Holladay, Utah - For the past six months, dozens of refugees from around the world now living in Salt Lake County have been meeting on a weekly basis to create art that reflects their current and past life experiences. On June 18, the art was revealed during a special gallery held by the Holladay Arts Council at Holladay City Hall.

The refugees are from all over the world including Sudan, South Sudan, Bhutan, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Karen people from Burma. Each of the groups have had to flee their home country due to war, genocide and “ethnic cleansing.” They have settled in Utah but face difficult challenges including isolation and a loss of community.

During the art gallery opening, youths from the different refugee populations performed various traditional dances for the audience.

The Holladay Arts Council met up with the Utah Refugee Service Office to craft the art program. The team is made up of representatives from the council, artists and refugee caseworkers.

“It gives them a chance to tell their story through art,” Craig Fisher, the chairman of the Holladay Arts Council and creator of the Healing Through the Arts program, said. “It gives us a chance to know them and for them to get to know us.”

The artwork included drawings and paintings of their old homes, their daily tasks in their old homes and their aspirations for the future.

Starting in late December, the team met with around 100 refugees each Saturday. Fisher said the groups met wherever was most convenient for the refugees since transportation can often be difficult for many of them.

“We met at senior centers for the older people and at the Refugee Education and Training Center for the kids,” Fisher said.

 Working with a team of therapists who helped craft the program and develop subjects for the weekly art sessions, the refugees were guided through different subjects used to create art.

“We would talk about their homeland and they’d create art about their homeland,” Fisher said. “We would talk to them about their artwork and would get the deeper story.”

Fisher said the refugee participants loved getting together to create art and want to continue with the program.

“We’re trying to expand the program, especially in communities with large refugee populations,” Fisher said.

There are several things Fisher hoped the refugee participants got out of the program.

“I hope they feel a part of the community, that this is their new home and I want them to feel at home,” Fisher said. “I want to help them with the hurdles and help make the process of integration easier.”

Fisher also hoped the community learned more about the refugee population through the art project.

“There’s a lot of disinformation about refugees out there,” Fisher said. “I hope this brings the community together to see who are their new neighbors and see they have the same hopes and dreams.”

To learn more about the Healing Through Art project, visit