Words and photos provided by Olivia Bauso
Erin Dougherty is a people person. It is evident from the moment I meet her that she enjoys talking and interacting with others. Her smile is infectious.
In addition to identifying as a people person, Erin also identifies as an artist. Art is how she found herself, how she expresses herself, and how she works through her problems. She spends most of her time hoping art can do the same for others.
After attending two years of art school she decided to take her career in a different direction. As a visual communication student there, she felt she was missing something deep.“I felt no connection to it. I love working with people, and I missed that element,” she says.
So naturally, she had a minor life crisis at 20 years old and flipped her education around.
After talking to an art therapist she worked with at the time, Erin finally found what was missing. “Art therapy just made sense to me,” she explains. Erin finished undergrad at Springfield College in Massachusetts before landing at Nazareth College to complete her M.S. in Art Therapy, and here she’s stayed. “I never imagined myself ending up in Rochester, but I’ve totally been able to make a home here,” she says, adding that of all the places she’s lived, this is the first city to make her feel settled.
Erin is currently the Creative Arts Coordinator at Community Arts Connection, an Arc of Monroe dayhab center and an art therapist at Spectrum Creative Arts. At the Arc, she runs 10 art groups each week and works with adults who have intellectual and developmental disabilities. She spends her nights and weekends with kids over at Spectrum. Both jobs allow Erin to be her spunky self, but by working with kids and adults, she gets to divide up her energy. “With kids I can be silly, but there’s a place for serious,” she explains. “I just like being with people, period, so it’s nice that I get to do both jobs.”
As the daughter of two teachers, Erin didn’t follow suit. She “grew up under the thumb of two very strong, smart people” who would have supported her if she went the education route, but Erin didn’t want to make a career out of teaching art as a skill, rather, as teaching art as a tool.
She also recognizes the hard work career educators put into their classes. “You don’t realize what goes behind teaching someone a skill until you get up in front of them a see that you have to explain each and every piece of it,” she laughs. Luckily, Erin has experience leading art journaling groups, and is passionate about using art journals as therapeutic tools.
Adult coloring books have been trending for the past year, and Erin is certainly in favor of them. She has a few herself for the times when she just needs to focus on staying in the lines. For times when you need to “put more of yourself on the page,” Erin suggests art journaling. She specifies that art journaling is “neat” because you get to really make the book on your own, and customize what goes on each page. If you want to journal about your day, you can. If you want to draw or doodle, you can. Erin says, “The fact that you get to create it any way you want - that is a big deal for people,” she says.
Erin is passionate about the therapeutic, social and mental benefits of art, as well as the importance of art education in the classroom. During college, she had several eye-opening observation experiences. “I went in a classroom where 14-year-olds had never painted before,” she says. That’s crazy! When I was a kid, I had those kits with hundreds of markers, paints and pencils - I got like eight of those a year. Art was such a big deal when I was a kid, so for kids not to be getting that kind of education now, it truly hurts.”
Erin emphasizes the importance of art in creating identity and in learning creative problem solving skills. She tells me she tries to use art at least once a day. “It’s my quiet moment - and I make sure it’s quiet - to sit and get it all out. People keep things inside; it all stays in one place. When I get to practice my art apart from work, I get to take what I’ve got in here,” she motions to her heart, “and put it in a place so it’s not sitting with me.”