This September, the United Nations marked World Literacy Day by convening a distinguished panel of ambassadors, UNICEF directors, education and public policy experts—and a sculptor.
What could an artist teach world leaders about literacy and community development? A lot, actually, especially if that artist happens to be Cecilia Rodhe, graduate of the Creative Arts Therapy (CAT) certificate program at The New School for Public Engagement. At the UN, Rodhe explained how teaching emotional literacy along with verbal literacy helps children understand the importance of creative self-expression. As co-founder and president of the Noah’s Arc Foundation, Rodhe has made healing through creative self-expression her life’s mission.
Working to reach underserved communities, “Noah’s Arc focuses on providing an emotional education,” says Rodhe, who launched the organization in 2010 with her son, Chicago Bulls starting center Joakim Noah. “For us, the emphasis is on what I call ‘Expression from the Inside’—the need to creatively share fears, loves, and passions.”
Active in Chicago and New York, Noah’s Arc staff have led workshops for hundreds of young people, partnering with local organizations including the Rheedlen Foundation, in Harlem; It Takes a Village to Raise a Child, in Queens; and The Learning Center, in Manhattan. The young organization has already taken big strides thanks to Rodhe’s commitment to linking artistic practice and community engagement—a commitment she explored as a student at The New School.
“A few years ago, a friend took me to a lecture at The New School. When we were leaving he said, ‘Get a catalog—this place is like a candy store. Every time you see what’s offered, it makes you happy,’” says Rodhe. “I opened up the catalog, saw Creative Arts Therapy, and knew that’s where I belonged.”
Rodhe brought two decades of sculpting experience to CAT, where she studied from 2008 to 2011. While providing comprehensive psychology and creative therapy training, CAT also focuses on applied learning. All students must complete fieldwork, which Rodhe did at the Living Museum, a Queens studio dedicated to presenting the art produced by patients at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center, with which CAT has a rich relationship.
“Community action is the heart and soul of the program,” says Dr. Louise Montello, founding director of CAT. “Our relationships with outside organizations show students how creative art therapy can effect real change.” For Rodhe, these relationships are mutually beneficial. “We need each other: the students learn from the community, and the community learns from the students.”
With that principle in mind, Rodhe continued her relationship with The New School after graduation. A regular visitor to campus, she is working with Dr. Montello to explore joint projects with the Noah’s Arc Foundation, including offering fieldwork opportunities for CAT students at the Long Island City YMCA.