WDSRA offers two art therapy programs in Naperville

The Facts What: WDSRA Art Program Visiting Artists When: 6 to 9 p.m. the first Wednesdays of each month (next one, July 2) Where: WDSRA Drop-In Center at Riverwalk Community Center, 305 W. Jackson Ave., Naperville Sign up: No pre-registration required What: WDSRA Art Program Creative Corner When: 7 to 8:30 p.m. each Thursday Where: Naperville Park District’s 95th Street Center, 2244 W. 95th St., Naperville Sign up: Pre-registration is required. Learn more: For more information on either program, call WDSRA at 630-681-0962 or visit

How many times have we all reached a point where either our frustrations or anger or sadness with a situation have rendered us speechless? We know we want to say something, but we are unable to and we’re not always sure why. That emotional or mental expression can get stuck.

Those suffering from a mental illness or who live with developmental challenges have an especially difficult time expressing those feelings and thoughts often on a daily basis.

But, it is often through art they find a satisfying outlet for their hindered ideas and emotions.

“Art gives them a vehicle of expression,” said art therapist Dana Stewart. “They can use the art to get out feelings and thoughts they cannot verbalize.”

Stewart is the manager of the fine arts programs and facilities with the Western DuPage Special Recreation Association. She coordinates two art-centered programs for the organization, the Visiting Artists Program and the Creative Corner, and both are available at Naperville locations and each serves a different client base.

The Visiting Artists Program, held monthly as part of the Drop In Center at the Naperville Park District’s Riverwalk Community Center on Jackson Avenue, serves adults with a mental illness, bipolar, schizophrenia and depression among other diagnoses, and is run in conjunction with the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

“It is a collaborative effort,” said Stewart, adding volunteers from local churches provide the free dinners that are part of the program.

The programs

The Creative Corner, at the park district’s 95th Street Center, attracts participants, mostly young adults in their late teens and older, who have various developmental and intellectual disabilities and challenges.

While these programs serve different audiences, there is commonality in the programs’ purpose.

“We’re hopefully helping them tap into their creativity and talents they don’t know they have,” Stewart said.

The Visiting Artists program is held monthly in conjunction with the regular weekly drop-in evenings where people can come by for a few hours of socialization.

“It is for people who are usually high functioning and can oftentimes drive themselves, or many are dropped off by family members,” Stewart said.

Stewart brings in art professionals, art teachers and art therapists who work with the clients in a variety of mediums. WDSRA will provide the art supplies needed, but the artists will often take care of that themselves because they choose their topic.

Not all drop-in clients participate, however. Each decides whether to participate, but usually they get about 30 people to join in.

“Some just sit and watch the others, and they can get something from that,” Stewart said.

The instructors are there to encourage and be supportive, and the participants know they are not to judge each other’s work.

“It really is for each individual’s need,” Stewart said. “They each have their own connections to different themes (and mediums), but that is a good thing.”

The program is definitely fine arts and not just crafts, she said.

Creative Corner is somewhat different, offering fun projects while encouraging socialization. The tactile element also helps people make a connection to something and can be a soothing exercise.

Volunteers provide one-on-one support for the clients.

It is exciting to see the growth in the artwork, as clients move from basic shapes toward more complex concepts, Stewart said.

“It can really give them a sense of accomplishment,” she said.

Participants in both the Visiting Artists and the Creative Corner programs can bring their artwork home, and it serves as a reminder of what they can do and how they can express themselves. The participants often will give their work to someone they care about, which is a special gift, Stewart said.

There is a public showing of the artwork at four WDSRA shows each year, but Stewart said, she would love to secure a regular venue to display the pieces on an ongoing basis.


WDSRA is able to offer these art therapy programs through grant money. The city of Naperville annually awards grants through its Special Events and Cultural Amenities program, which is funded through 1 percent of the city’s food and beverage tax.

Last year, the city gave out $2 million in grants, said Jennifer Runestad, special events coordinator for the city of Naperville.

The SECA funds are open to nonprofit groups, and the program or event has to take place in Naperville to qualify. There are other criteria as well, Runestad said.

“Is it unique? What is the overall benefit to the community? Is the organization financially sound? Those are some of the things the (advisory committee) reviews,” she said.

WDSRA received more than $4,200 total for its Visiting Artists and Creative Corner programs and “that grant money is a huge help,” Stewart said.

With 1 in 4 Americans suffering from a mental illness at some point, the need for programs like these is real, she said.

“Our agency focuses on recreation, and there is a real need for recreation and socialization for someone with mental illness,” Stewart said. “Folks who have (a mental illness) often have a deep loneliness and feeling of isolation. We offer them the social opportunity that makes them feel less alone. They bond through art.”



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