After the November 20 Waukesha parade tragedy, art therapist Mira Alexandrea Newell, owner of Broken Mirror Healing who attended Waukesha School, knew she had to take action to help support the community. “When this tragedy happened, I just felt it was my duty to bring healing to this place,” she said.
After partnering with the Red Cross Social Action Committee and the Wisconsin Art Therapy Association, Newell created the Comfort and Joy Ornament Project, a collaborative art process in which two models are used to create paper ornaments. . “One can be kept by the creator and their family, and the other can be donated to the community,” Newell said.
the Berger Express recently interviewed Newell about the art project and its impact on the Waukesha community.
What inspired you to use ornaments as a symbol of community healing for this project?
The planned theme for the parade was “Comfort and Joy”. I wanted to take those words and breathe life into them. I also wanted to have a visual artifact as a symbol of hope that could be passed on. I found art to be a powerful medicine for those things that words alone weren’t enough to get over.
I walked the streets of downtown Waukesha the day after the tragedy, and it was so quiet, and the trees were all bare. I thought “How can we fill these bare branches with color, and how can we fill these wounded hearts with hope?” It all happened around Christmas, so ornaments made a suitable medium for this project. The ornaments hang from bare branches, which can change with the seasons.
Overall, the goal of the project is to raise awareness that the healing process is neither linear nor short. It takes time and collective intention; it takes a village working through many seasons.
How has the community of Waukesha and surrounding communities supported you in this project, and how has the project evolved?
First, I designed an ornament template and sent it to a family friend who works for the Red Cross. The work began at the Red Cross Family and Friends Resource Center at Carroll University and reached more people with a community support event at the Donna Lexa Art Center.
I have also held workshops at Martha Merrill’s Books in Waukesha and other places in Wisconsin. The folks in Milwaukee wanted to send their love, so I recently hosted a workshop at Altered State of Mind, a metaphysical boutique in Bay View. The ornament-making workshops in Kenosha allowed people to express their love and support. There has been a lot of violence in Wisconsin in recent months – the state has been thrust into the international spotlight. We have the power to write the story that will fill the next page. If violence begets violence, we can make peace beget peace.
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Several Waukesha stores, including Martha Merrill’s, have agreed to display the ornaments on Healing Trees for their businesses for the coming months, as an ongoing memorial and a show of solidarity.
What are some of your plans with the project, and how can people get involved?
For each season I will create a new downloadable ornament template. Those interested in participating can create ornaments on their own or in a group workshop. The winter pattern will be a shining star in the dark, and the spring pattern will be a flower bringing new life. Ornaments will continue to be hung on healing trees at businesses in downtown Waukesha.
Completed ornaments can be mailed to Healing Hearts of Southeastern Wisconsin, 121 Wisconsin Avenue, Waukesha, WI 53186.
From 5:30 to 8 p.m. on January 20, Waukesha High School will host “Wellness for Waukesha,” an event to help families deal with grief and trauma from the events of the Waukesha Christmas Parade. A collaboration between Healing Hearts of Southeastern Wisconsin and Children’s Wisconsin, “Wellness for Waukesha” features a variety of effective methods of grief therapy, such as music, art, sound of movement, and talk therapy modalities. I will be leading a community art therapy experience.
The ornaments created in December will be donated to families directly affected by the parade tragedy, and they will have the opportunity to create star ornaments together.
Dinner and babysitting are included, and the event is free. Visit website healingheartswisconsin.org for more information.