Healing Children Through Art
Looking out the bus window on his long ride to Isidore Newman School, Dr. Brian Turner had some foreshadowing of his future career path.
“Every day, I would see — whether children or adults — people struggling to figure out every-day problems,” he says.
Today, he is back in New Orleans, ready to do something about that. He makes his return after extensive clinical psychology doctoral education, research, teaching and work experience at Jackson State University, the University of Akron and the University of West Florida.
Dr. Turner has just been named the Clinical Executive Director of The Color Gallery, Inc., an art therapy studio that works to decrease community violence and school-age related crime by providing creative means of expression. The Color Gallery is transitioning to a new location in partnership with the New Orleans Rec Department.
Adding the clinical component to the existing program will be a seamless transition, Turner says, because The Color Gallery was already focused on healing through art expression. His role is to add oversight, evaluation and construction of appropriate programs, and, when necessary, to provide clinical insights or refer children out to individual services. “The clinical addition means greater attention can be paid to some of the silent issues that may not be talked about … that are sometimes forgotten because we focus on what we can see,” he says.
Silent issues are many for children in the city. The haves and the have-nots; residual racism; lack of support at home, at school or in general; lack of financial funding; or credence for mental health.
“We often treat the symptoms, but, if we don’t actually go to the source of that pain, all that is going to happen is we go back to where we started,” Dr. Turner says. “And sometimes, we feel even more broken because we thought that we were healed.”
He says that New Orleanians are known for having a good time, but notorious for not taking care of ourselves. He cites obesity, diabetes and heart disease rates, but especially mental health. “We have not dealt with a lot of the issues that impact people, and, if you don’t address it when they are children, then you end up with adults who are broken,” he says.
At The Color Gallery, it’s not so hard to talk about all these issues. “It’s a place to accept yourself fully and honestly, and to be more vulnerable and more likely to talk,” he says. “It’s a lot easier to heal in a therapeutic setting where people know we are here to help each other.”
The high school students at The Color Gallery can apply online to be a part of the program or be referred by a teacher, counselor, the juvenile court system or the Louisiana Center for Children’s Rights. When founder and Executive Director Ursula Rochon opened the doors in 2015, she imagined art classes in acrylics, oil, watercolors and charcoal, but she has since added photography, theater, and, coming next summer, a green house, organic garden and culinary arts program. The Color Gallery also runs and manages a musical arts program in Houston, and a carpentry and sculpture program in Baltimore.
“The process of creation eliminates the desire to destroy in each child,” Rochon says. “My appeal of having Dr. Turner join the team sprouted from the passion he expressed in assisting the under-served child fighting the unfair plight of not receiving that of a ‘privileged education.’”
Dr. Turner puts it this way: “Through my work, I seek to blend the experiences, lessons and chapters of my life into an opportunity that will motivate, educate and activate. I am an athlete, a son, a clinical psychologist, a mentor, an educator, a brother, a man and a person of faith. I seek to blend all of me into the center’s needs and provide the opportunity to keep the faith, change a life or save a mind.”
Dr. Turner also will continue his work as assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Xavier University, and, as he feels the city is severely lacking in diligent professional mental health providers, he also has launched a local private practice for all ages and various conditions. He also has recruited other providers to advocate for mental health in the city, state and nation.
Hard to believe he was slow to arrive at the decision of where to use his talents in New Orleans. (He admits his mom scolded him, “Boy, stop playing! You need to do the work!”) What seems like an exhausting schedule now is just what Dr. Turner asks of himself. “I don’t look to do average,” he says. “I don’t look to just get by. If I can’t do well, I’m not going to put myself out there to try.” thecolorgallery.org