Home Is Where the Art Is

Creative expression helps heal Katrina's young hearts and minds.

By Jessica Heasley, published August 10, 2006 - last reviewed on June 9, 2016

The film opens with a tight close-up of a freckle-faced girl in studious wire-rimmed glasses. She's holding the microphone and delivering her lines with the punchy timing of a seasoned war correspondent. "Hi. My name is Kalypso. I'm a ten-year-old girl who just happens to live in New Orleans."

Kalypso Homan, now 11, is a Hurricane Katrina survivor and a budding filmmaker who made a video about the 2005 hurricane. The 12-minute video called "Kalypso's New Orleans" has been viewed more than 4,400 times on YouTube.com and has garnered Homan invitations to screenings and events all over New Orleans. But fame and recognition wasn't her motive. "It's good to put an opinion out there," says Homan. "It was six months after Katrina and we weren't getting much help, so I made a movie about why we needed help and what's so special about New Orleans."

Whether she knew it or not, Homan channeled her feelings into a form of creative expression known as art therapy--a healthy way to work through trauma. It's something many people should try; especially now, at Katrina's one-year anniversary. "At an anniversary, stress reactions come back," says Cathy Malchiodi, a licensed art therapist and a director with the American Art Therapy Association. "It's really important, especially for children, to have some kind of outlet to express what's going on and to remember it."

Art therapy uses creativity to explore suppressed or painful feelings and to improve well-being. Engaging in creative projects, such as drawing, painting, and even movie making, can help people to communicate emotions that are difficult to verbalize. "When you talk about trauma, you're only accessing those verbal memories," says Malchiodi. "But when you start to do something sensory like art, you touch the part of the brain that's been traumatized. Different things emerge in a child's story when they're doing art. Art is a safety valve in this way."

For many, art therapy may be a way for people to reflect. Malchiodi suggests parents encourage their kids to express themselves in any way they want—such as through songs, stories, play, drawing, or writing. Ask the child to show you what a "worry" or "safe place" looks like. Another productive way to commemorate the past year is making a memory box filled with photographs or mementos of what happened.

Malchiodi says there are warning signs of trauma parents can look for in their children's artwork. If a child repeats an image or a story over and over; if they create pictures of the disaster but no rescue images; or if they don't feel better after drawing or creating something (most kids are excited to share their artwork), Malchiodi says it might be worth consulting a mental health professional. "After 9/11 children who were more resilient showed the towers being hit in their artwork," says Malchiodi, "but they also showed the fire trucks and police coming. They had this hope that it was really bad but things can get better. But the child in trouble doesn't think things are going to get any better."

For Homan, she says she still feels sad when she thinks of her classmates who evacuated last year and never came back. But she's planning to channel her energies into another film. "The main focus of the film is education and the one-year anniversary," she says. Homan's confidence is in good shape despite the ordeal she's been through. Her worries seem to be less and less about Katrina. In fact, the artist-in-residence has moved on to a different kind of fear. "The irony is, now she's worried that her new film won't be as good as the first," says her father.

To view Kalypso's New Orleans: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y18ijTPfBME