Commune For Arts, a free virtual programme organised by theatre actor/director Ho Lee Ching, has been set up to help people deal with the pandemic and manage their mental health.

This goodwill initiative, which will run for three months via Zoom, is supported by the Cultural Economy Development Agency’s (Cendana) Performing Arts Presentation Funding Programme 2020 and done in collaboration with the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac) and the Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA).

“Times are bleak. I think it is important to take time off to care for your mental health.

“Creative art therapies allow us to slow down, relieve anxiety and rumination, enhance self-efficacy, and help relax, motivate, and energise your system,” says Ching (as she prefers to be called).

“We are also able to feel empowered and valued just by being in a safe and supportive group,” she adds..

Initially, Commune For Arts was designed as a weekly session to be run at KLPac’s outdoor lawn. But the project was shelved after the pandemic hit the nation last year. Ching, 30, decided to revive it after receiving funding from Cendana and made an online pivot considering the pandemic uncertainties.

“We also made the decision to work with creative arts therapists instead. This shift was prompted mainly after gauging the state of mental health in the country in the past year.

The Commune For Arts three-month programme. Photo: HandoutThe Commune For Arts three-month programme. Photo: Handout

“Honestly, I have also been struggling myself. And in a mental health peer support group I run online, many have shared how their anxiety has worsened through the year. Hence, the shift towards working with creative arts therapists made sense to me,” says Ching.

Ching is no stranger to shedding light on mental health issues through the arts. In 2018, she staged her debut directorial show at KLPac called OCD which explored the experiences of those with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and in 2019, she produced a physical theatre show about neurodiversity called In/Out.

She admits that as some with Tourette Syndrome and several mental health comorbidities, Commune For Arts is a very personal project.

“It promotes values and beliefs I hold strongly to – the amalgamation of an inclusive communal environment, the arts, and mental health advocacy.

“In proposing this landscape, I believe and hope that Commune For Arts can provide a positive impact within participants, through individual changes within a societal level,” offers Ching.

Commune For Arts offers three types of creative therapy and therapeutic art-making sessions, namely Dance Movement Therapy (DMT), Art Therapy and Therapeutic Writing sessions. There will also be an in-house clinical psychologist present.

Commune For Arts will begin with the Therapeutic Writing sessions on Oct 16, facilitated by writer Shivani Sivagurunathan. Two time slots (morning and noon) are made available, limited to six participants for each session. In Therapeutic Writing, participants will explore the art of self-expression through creative writing. The sessions will also run on Oct 30, Nov 13, Nov 27 and Dec 11.

Ho Lee Ching says creative art therapies allow us to slow down, relieve anxiety and energise our system. Photo: HandoutHo Lee Ching says creative art therapies allow us to slow down, relieve anxiety and energise our system. Photo: Handout

The DMT sessions, which will run on Oct 17, Oct 31, Nov 7, Nov 14, Nov 21, Dec 12, Dec 19 and Dec 26, will be facilitated by registered dance movement therapist Janet Moo. Limited to 20 participants each session, the hour-long class will look into strengthening mind-body integration, enhancing cognitive organisation and regulating emotions through the use of movement.

Lastly, the Art Therapy sessions, which will run on Oct 23, Nov 6, Nov 20, Dec 4 and Dec 18, will be facilitated by registered art psychotherapist Dana Kaarina. The art therapy sessions, limited to 15 participants, will involve a variety of creative expressions including painting, drawing, colouring and sculpting. For participants who are unable to afford art materials, limited Commune Art Kits will be made available.

“I believe that the arts can be a transformational tool. Commune For Arts is my first step in engaging a community and helping the public realise the value of arts through mental health advocacy.

“I hope for Commune For Arts to be a platform that explores the humanity we all share, bringing together a community that is diverse, enriching the arts and the cultural scene in Malaysia,” concludes Ching.

More info here.

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