Ashley Blakeney, SEA Alumni – Summer 2015
Photographer, Senior Manager of National Programs at The Pablove Foundation, Mentor
With a combined passion for photography, creative writing, and supporting youth – Ashley Blakeney has fostered tools learned from our Certificate Program in Social Emotional Arts to develop impactful healing arts programming across the country.
To what art form do you feel most connected? How did you become connected to it?
I feel most connected to photography and poetry. Both of these art forms have been in my life for quite some time. My great uncle gifted me a camera when I was 15 and I’ve never looked back. I studied throughout high school and college and will always have a burning love for the power of photographs. With poetry—writing has always been an important element in my life. I’ve been writing poems for as long as I can remember, which led me to pursue a BA in Creative Writing with an emphasis in poetry. I love to work with poems and vignettes, and have learned that you can find out so much about people through expressive writing.
With what populations do you work?
In my professional life I work with the pediatric oncology population and in my personal mentorship I work with students in my hometown of New Haven, CT.
In what ways have you integrated your training in social emotional arts into the work you are currently doing? What difference has it made?
My training in social emotional arts really changed the trajectory of my career plans. Immediately after completing the summer intensive session of the Certificate Program in Social Emotional Arts in 2015, I started teaching high school. I was able to incorporate many exercises and principles into my classroom and the SEA tools I learned enabled me to build powerful and meaningful relationships with my students. I facilitated a poetry group with a few of my students during lunch that allowed them more creative freedom than their rigid class curriculum. I was also able to lean on the facilitation questions in many problem-solving situations as a way to get at the root of issues that came up for the students.
After teaching high school, I was able to bring SEA tools into my current position as the Senior Manager of National Programs at The Pablove Foundation which teaches photography to children living with pediatric cancer. When I interviewed for this position, my supervisor realized I was able to bring a new skill set to the table due to my SEA training. I understood how beneficial healing arts would be to the pediatric cancer community and this was a critical point as to why I was hired. In this role, I’ve been able to strengthen our curriculum to incorporate healing arts principles and practices in order to provide our students with a full, well-rounded, and personalized experience. My organization has since taken arts healing quite seriously and adjusted much of our programming to incorporate this. We’ve even had UCLArts & Healing come in and train some of our staff and volunteers! We are very grateful for the insight and knowledge gained from my SEA training.
What does “social emotional arts” mean to you?
Social emotional arts means being able to utilize art to reach folks on a variety of levels and wavelengths. It means using art as a tool to connect to someone beyond the surface; how can we learn more about each other while engaging our creative resources at the same time? As a facilitator and teacher, how can I help you to feel more engaged, present, and seen? I believe that we all want and deserve to be truly seen for who we are and art is the first step in that direction. Being able to engage in conversations about your creative process and what it means in relationship to your life brings a genuine level of human connection.
Looking back on the Certificate in Social Emotional Arts (SEA) program, what have been some of the most impactful components of this training for you, personally or professionally?
The SEA program truly changed my life. It has been the most beneficial professional development experience I’ve ever had. It really opened up a new world to me of how to engage with art and with people. All of my experience with UCLArts & Healing poetry trainings have been incredible—both in the SEA summer intensive, participating in Jennie Linthorst’s writing groups, and even at the annual conference on Creativity & the Arts in Healing with Robert Carroll and Perie Longo. My experience with these sessions, and with these individuals, have really inspired me to continue my studies and hopefully secure proper certification to continue doing this work. I am beyond grateful for my relationship with Ping Ho on both a professional and personal level. Ping has been instrumental in my career strides and has also been an amazing resource to help bring The Pablove Foundation’s programming to the next level.
What skills did you learn in the SEA program that you use today?
The power of patience. The ability to look beyond the surface and assist folks in doing the same. Reassurance that art is multidimensional and can benefit people on so many different levels.
What are your goals working with social emotional arts?
To help people feel seen—especially those that are often overlooked. I want to help people find what they’re searching for within their art and help “non-artists” find their creative voice, teaching them how to lean on these voices as creative tools.
Have you experienced an “Aha!” moment(s) since completing the Certificate Program?
That this is my calling. I can’t imagine my life without the healing arts in it and I can’t wait to explore more!
Any words of advice to those interested in either taking the Certificate Program and/or incorporating social emotional arts into their field?
DO IT! If not for your professional career, than at least for your personal benefit. I learned SO much about myself when completing the training (including what my external triggers are for anxiety attacks). There is so much to learn and doing this program is just the first step. I think every field can benefit from incorporating SEA into it and I highly encourage folks to explore!