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Encinitas offers art classes for neurologically impaired

ENCINITAS — Since 2015, the city of Encinitas has granted funds to Synergy Arts Foundation to collaborate with Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas Community Programs to offer free Healing Arts Classes to all in patients who are recovering from any neurological issues, including but not limited to brain injuries, strokes, spinal cord injuries, Parkinson’s disease, and Multiple Sclerosis.

The facilitator is Denise McMurtrie, a healing arts facilitator, who designs classes to promote self-expression through art, reduce stress, increase hand-eye coordination, and stimulate imagination and creativity in a comfortable and supportive environment. According to McMurtrie, sometimes the therapeutic benefits extend directly to family members and caregivers as well, who are usually under a lot of stress coping with a loved one who is having difficulty in life.

The classes take place every Tuesday at 4 p.m. and the first and third Saturday of the month at 10:30 a.m. at Scripps Memorial Hospital Encinitas, 354 Santa Fe Drive. Caregivers are welcome to observe and/or participate. For more information, contact Deborah Pimstone, LCSW [email protected] or at (760) 633-6709.

Scripps provides the venue as well as a staff person for all classes. Many patients use their non-dominant hand because of paralysis and there are techniques enabling them to be successful with their artwork. A special slanted easel was set up for a patient in a halo to allow him to paint without moving his head or neck. Joanne Masumoto, Scripps Activities Coordinator, who assists at every class, innovatively secured a paintbrush to the top of a patient’s hand as she was unable to hold one.

McMurtrie cites additional victories she has witnessed over the years. Currently, there is one woman who underwent brain surgery nine months ago. While recovering, she started attending the classes. She had no art background at all but just loved the classes. Once discharged, she has continued to attend every class but still struggles with executive brain functions. With the positive encouragement of McMurtrie, this woman’s creativity has blossomed, and in fact, she recently submitted her portfolio to a local Call for Artists.

Another participant, a woman suffering with facial aphasia, created an artwork. Her two grown children and her physical therapist accompanied her in the class. She created an amazingly easy-to-do and beautiful artwork. When she was finished, McMurtrie place a black frame around the artwork she actually smiled, to the joy of her children and physical therapist.

Offering these classes in a group setting is also a bonding experience.  Everyone is complimentary, supportive and non-judgmental which promote pride and camaraderie reflected in every class. This would not happen if one just painted alone in one’s room, McMurtrie said.