Category: social awareness

Okey's Promise: Art for a cause

UPDATE: I have created a new website for the Okey’s Promise project. Please follow along at

Okey is OK
"Okey is OK!" painting by BZTAT

(Please forgive me for this unusually long post. It requires some length for full discussion.)

I used to say that doing counseling (my other career) was like painting a painting.  Instead of using lines and color and various media, I was managing human variables, bringing them together to find harmony out of chaos.

In both – creating a painting and using communication skills to bring about emotional healing – you have to surrender a certain amount of control to dimensions out of your reach. But with both, you rely on your skills, talents, and spiritual connections with others to bring about something of value.

As I am moving towards my artwork becoming my main career focus, I am astounded at how the counselor in me comes through in the art, much as the artist in me did when counseling was my main focus.

Although I specialize in painting animals, a subject that would seem to be somewhat separate from more social conscience types of art, I am amazed at how healing pet-themed artworks can be to people who rely on their pets for balance and connection in their worlds.

I also find that I have become more deeply connected with people who are doing great work with pet rescue and animal charities to deal with the inhumanity perpetrated on innocent creatures in our society.

Recently, a lost and forlorn cat crossed my path. Residing in a parking lot and in danger of being killed by heavy traffic in the area, she was like a sitting duck. Reluctantly, I rescued her – the reluctance being because of my own circumstances being not the best for adopting a new cat.

I was deeply humbled by how many people not only followed her story here, but also donated to her veterinary care. Within DAYS, $305 was raised for my little Okey.


It is clear to me that Okey was socialized to some degree with people, then abandoned. The way that she cowers with me leads me to believe that the humans she has encountered before me were frightening to her. She is coming around, but it is a slow process.

It is one thing to care about animals and to have compassion for creatures who are lost in our human world. Yet there are those who would suggest that we should worry more about other social ills first. An editorial in my local paper went so far as to decry volunteers who give of themselves, implying that childhood poverty was a more important concern to address.

But here is the reality. When animals are suffering in society, children are too. When there is violence to animals, there is likely violence to children and others who may be defenseless. Where there is poverty, there is an abundance of unwanted pets due to animals not being spayed and neutered.

Truth be told, child welfare programs grew out of the efforts of animal rescue organizations who were seeing children in deplorable conditions when they were rescuing endangered pets.

The issue of pet abuse and abandonment is deeply connected to the issue of child abuse and domestic violence. Both issues need to be addressed together, not one in isolation of each other. I have a whole contingent of women and children advocates who will back me up on this.

My community of Stark County, OH has had a long history of poor management and horrible conditions at the county dog pound. Recently, mismanagement led to a family pet being wrongfully euthanized, and our commissioners are, once again failing to see how this issue connects with the other ills of our society.

I want to make it VERY difficult to do that from here on out.

I want to make my local community, as well as the broader global community with whom I connect, to realize that we must treat our animals well, in addition to addressing the needs of children and others in need in the community.

How? I am planning a series of large public artworks to place prominently in my community to highlight the value that animals bring to our world. Along with the artwork, I want to create a public awareness campaign to highlight the connections between animal maltreatment and child abuse and domestic violence.

These will not be negatively focused artworks to make us feel guilty, rather, they will be artworks designed to make us feel good about doing what is right.

I do not yet have the funding for the project, and it will likely come in stages.  I plan to utilize, potential grants, and other resources to raise the funds. I am submitting the idea to Launchpad, in hopes that I might become one of their “Five people, five ideas, transforming five communities”.

I hope that I can rely on my fans and friends to get the word out and help in anyway that they can. You guys are THE BEST.

In the interest of full disclosure, please know that I have to make a living, so the fund raising will provide me support to live as I engage in the project. Consider it an Encore Career, combining “purpose, passion and a paycheck”. I would not be able to do it otherwise. But trust me, I will not be getting rich off of the project.

Art with a purpose and art with passion is essential to me. Bringing about change through creative motivation is the most valuable change there is. I want to be a part of the solution to community concerns locally, and worldwide.

In honor of my little rescue cat, saved from the dangers of the streets in Canton, which I intend to make safer for all, I am calling the project “Okey’s Promise”. The art will make a promise to do better for our community’s children and creatures.

As I try to show this little cat  that some humans are OK, and the world doesn’t have to be so scary, I am haunted by the fact that there could be a child out there missing her.

And that child doesn’t have me or anyone else to show him or her that the world is OK.

Will you help me change that?

Uncensored: A look at the darker side of my artwork

Uncensored poster

I am most known for my brightly colored animal paintings that tend to be whimsical and very upbeat. There is another side to my artwork, however, that totally surprises people who are accustomed only to the more cheery side.

I have also created collages and assemblages that take a much more serious tone. They are expressive and make an attempt to put form to ideas, concerns and sometimes feeling of distress.

My sister calls them my “bad mood paintings” as the subject matter is not pleasant and my color choices are discordant.

Some are very personal. Some address serious issues facing our society.

I don’t always share them with a broad public, because they can stir debate and controversy that conflicts with the “brand” I have developed around my pet themed work. I do bring them out, however, when a proper context for them presents itself.

The “Uncensored” juried exhibit at Anderson Creative Gallery is one such context.

The show commemorates National Anti-Censorship Month and purposefully courts controversy, seeking to show pieces that both provoke and explore themes that are unsettling.

I had two pieces selected for the show. The pices are shown below with words are from the Artist Statement I wrote to accompany the pieces.

The colors are dark and graphic; the subject matter painful and challenging; the words reflect a time in our history where ignorance and hubris prevailed to the detriment of soldiers and innocent civilians around the world.

These  collage/assemblage pieces are perhaps the most expressive pieces I have ever made, and the most graphic in their depiction of how I was affected by current events at the time.

Game of the Century
"Game of the Century" Mixed Media Assemblage by BZTAT

“Game of the Century” puts a visual form to the lyrics of the song “Our Deliverance” by Emily Saliers, reflecting how power brokers make decisions about soldiers’ lives in the same way that a football coach maps out plays on a chalkboard.

Government Whitewash
"Government Whitewash" Mixed Media Assemblage by BZTAT

“Government Whitewash” is perhaps the ugliest artwork that I have ever created. That is because it is about the ugliest thing I have ever witnessed.

Listening to United States Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff’s words in an NPR interview on September 1, 2005, in which he showed he was either oblivious to or in denial about the needs of people affected by Katrina, inspired this piece. I made every attempt to graphically illustrate the destruction of Katrina and the horror of the people caught in its aftermath, including the mud, broken glass, trash, and images of traumatized people in the background.

Some people look at these artworks and say, “Wow! Why is she painting cats?” Others may disagree with the political content or the visual form and be glad that I generally paint more pleasant themes.

Both, however, are a part of who I am as a person and as an artist. Both styles are reflective of my creative impulse, and both present artistic challenges for me.

I cannot do one without the other.

“Uncensored” will be on display October 1-31, 2010 at Anderson Creative, 331 Cleveland Ave., NW, Canton, OH.

Creative Resilience – Presentation for NAMI Ohio

I have chosen two separate paths in my career. One as an artist and one as a mental health counselor. I have always felt that they were very compatible paths. My artistry has influenced my approaches to counseling, and my clients have fed me with inspiration for my artwork.

Lately, however, it seems that the two paths have begun to merge.

Yesterday, I presented for the Recognizing the Impact of Childhood Trauma: Powerful Voices, Practical Strategies conference in Columbus, OH. The event was sponsored by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) Ohio and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) – Ohio Chapter with a grant from the Ohio Department of Mental Health (ODMH). They selected me to present because of my blended interests in the arts and therapeutic treatment of child survivors of trauma.

I want to be clear about this–I am not an art therapist. I am an artist, and I am a therapist, but I have no training in the discipline of art therapy as it is commonly known in treatment communities. I do, however, use creative approaches to therapy (for which I have received training) to enhance my clients’ communication about their concerns.

My presentation entitled, Creative Resilience: Using Creativity for Recovery from Trauma, which included the video above, was about how creative approaches to therapy assist children in processing traumatic experiences. I also talked about how we can utilize creative approaches to educating the community about the effects of trauma so that we can enhance treatment efforts, direct trauma survivors to effective resources to help them, and look at community wide efforts to minimize traumatic events for children.

I spoke about a my work with the Phoenix Picture Project. You can read more about the Phoenix Picture Project and the resulting public artwork entitled “Jesse’s Journey” here.

Here are some of the thoughts that I shared in my presentation:

  • Bad stuff happens to good, innocent, normal people.
  • Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand – Chinese Proverb
  • The bad stuff doesn’t take the good away, it just hides it away for awhile.
  • Giving survivors of trauma opportunities to be creative allows the good to re-emerge, and allows for psychological, physiological and spiritual healing.
  • Children are amazingly resilient. Like the legendary phoenix that arises from the ashes with resurgent beauty, grace and glory, so too can children recover from terrifying and traumatizing events.
  • Involvement of children in creative activities enhances their understanding of the things that have happened to them and helps them become more resilient.
  • We want to build spirits, not break them. We want to create new strengths, not destroy old habits. We want to expand the survivor’s understanding and awareness of the world, not eliminate their current perceptions. And we want to engage with survivors, honoring their amazing ability to grow.

I thank NAMI Ohio for inviting me to present at their conference. It was an amazing group of people, and I thoroughly enjoyed the event. The other speakers, Dr. Robin Gurwitch, Monique Marrow, Ph.D, and two courageous trauma survivors who shared their stories were amazing.

But in my mind, he didn’t break a leg, he broke my sexual life. There was nothing to do, I couldn’t deny it constantly. Recalling the fatigue, I gathered up my courage and went to the pharmacy for .

It is my hope that I will get more opportunities like this one to speak and share about the creative healing process with community groups.

If you would like BZTAT to speak at your event, please contact her here.

*All artwork represented in the video above was used with permission granted through the Phoenix Picture Project.

**BZTAT, AKA Vicki Boatright is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Ohio. Any opinions expressed are her own and do not necessarily represent the position of her employer. Information provided here is intended solely for the general information of the reader. It is not intended take the place of professional mental health care.

Life is an Adventure!