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C.R.E.A.T.E. Community Studios

By Natalie Criscione

CREATE (Capital Region Expressive Arts Transformation Empowerment), by its very nature, has been coloring outside the lines since its inception. Like so many burgeoning non-profits, CREATE evolved because of what did not exist. In 2017, Heather Hutchison, Aili Lopez, and Julie Lewis recognized a need for a place in the Capital Region where people could go and use the arts for mental health and wellness. Hutchison is quick to clarify that CREATE is not a place that provides art therapy per se, but rather a place to “use art as therapy.” 

What does that mean, you might ask? How does one use art as therapy? At CREATE, art is used to express oneself, and it offers a place where the barriers to that expression, whether economic or otherwise, are removed. It is described by both its founding members and patrons as a “safe space.” Through individual projects and group collaborations, for example, young people  “communicate and express themselves appropriately with adults and other students,” says Hutchison. As a way to embark on such dialogue, it is not uncommon to have conversations about the meanings behind a piece of art, its colors, shadows, and focal points. For, it is through such conversations that a world of other topics is opened. “It’s really interesting,” says Hutchison, “how there are some community events where we draw or create a design and suddenly the social awkwardness comes down because you have something to talk about… It’s that shared experience.” Hence, the art becomes therapy, the process is revered over the product, and coloring outside the lines is actually encouraged. 

Besides “Open Studio” times when students are invited to work on their own or the day’s prescribed project, CREATE offers a number of other weekly/monthly programs such as the Teen Writing Program, Community Wellness, Art in the Park, Zentangle and others that bring community members together. No matter the art medium, within every group exists a “core value of acceptance where everything you do is ok,” says Hutchison. In fact, one does not even have to create anything. Sometimes what is needed is just to be in the space, listen, and know that is ok.  “Sometimes,” she says, “it’s not even about the art, it’s just about the presence of others who you know are going to be accepting.”

In addition to the regularly scheduled programs, CREATE has recently embarked on some long-term initiatives. “‘Erasing Spaces and Faces: The Legacy of Urban Renewal,’” says Julie Lewis, “is a social practice, multi-dimensional project that integrates history, art, and storytelling to learn about the impact of urban renewal on Saratoga’s BIPOC and immigrant communities. The project includes community storytelling events, oral narratives, visual arts, and a short documentary film. A recent exhibition which featured a mural and graphic novel-style narrative panels by artist Marcus Kwame Anderson, and small scale miniature recreations of the West Side neighborhood by Jen Wojtowicz, was on display at Saratoga Arts.”

Further, CREATE is launching its first capital campaign which involves a partnership with Alchemy Studios, to include a ceramics studio at the Schenectady location. Hutchison theorizes that the reason ceramics classes have been so highly requested since the pandemic began is because working with clay and dirt is “about being from the earth…and getting back in touch with that is literally emotionally and physically grounding,” something that continues to be an integral need. 

Now in its 6th year, C.R.E.A.T.E has established itself in both Schenectady and Saratoga Springs as a place of welcome for people of all ages. To register for one of the many art offerings, visit their website at . 

During the month of October as you say “yes” to the question at the register, “Would you like to round up?” know that you are already coloring outside the lines.


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