Expressing Life through Art in China: A Night with Big Miao
Art therapy is changing lives in China. “Big Miao” Shimming showed us how.
The room was set in an intimate fashion, full of colorful cushions strewn on the floor in preparation for Miao’s presentation. Miao, affectionately known as “Big Miao” because of his height, visited Antioch University Seattle (AUS) in May of 2017 to seek professional training and guidance in the art therapy field. On May 17, Miao gave a presentation on his important work. AUS staff and students were so eager to engage with Big Miao, they began asking questions right away in the evening’s Q&A session.
Big Miao began working AUS’s Art Therapy Program after reaching out to Dr. Janice Hoshino, Chair of Art Therapy.
“I observed Janice working and knew I needed her training!” exclaimed Miao. Hoshino, reaffirmed his story.
“WABC [World of Art Brut Culture], Big Miao’s art studio, is collaborating with AUS to gain professional training from registered art therapists.”
Dr. Hoshino has already led two Art Therapy workshops in China in collaboration with Big Miao and is looking forward to future trips this summer.
Big Miao began as an art curator and artist specializing in oil painting. In 2009, he came across the Special Needs population, moving his heart and changing his life. Since then, he has been transforming the lives of hundreds of people with “special needs” through creative expression. Big Miao opened World of Art Brut Culture, an art studio in which children and young adults with special needs come after school to paint, free of cost.
The majority of the students they work with are on the autism spectrum, have cerebral palsy, or have other varying developmental impairments. In a video Miao showed, the students spoke about their artwork, their own process, and the impact WABC has had in their life. Their teachers (they are not professionally trained art therapists) also speak about the students’ progress and involvement with WABC.
Parents of the students are pleased with the visible progress their children are making, noting the tangible transformation creative expression has brought into their lives. One audience member commended Big Miao’s hard work: “It’s apparent you have a huge heart, honorable intent, and are doing a wonderful service to your community.”
WABC has now opened public art centers in eight different cities in China (including Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzghou, and Chengdu). They are collaborating with 32 different communities and schools and have served over one thousand children and families.
Big Miao plans various events and fundraisers, such as Cultural Creative Center, Dream of China, and Charity Night. These events have attracted large audiences and engaged the Chinese population.
The car company Infinity is a sponsor and has collaborated with the WABC students to create an art piece in their Beijing headquarters. WABC has also collaborated with various Chinese celebrities, pop stars, entrepreneurs, and CEOs. These events have brought healing and are changing how Chinese see and treat children with autism.
Through their work, WABC aims to foster a genuine connection between the Special Needs population and their Chinese community. They have empowered students to use their talents and have brought them closer to their dream of “being treated like everyone else.” There are 10 million people in China on the Autism Spectrum. There is a great need for psycho-education and awareness in China where people with special needs are not treated equally. Big Miao is among the first to do this kind of work in China, where most have no concept of art therapy.
“He is making inroads, paving the way, and doing fundamental work,” said AUS Drama Therapy faculty member Bobbi Kidder. “His progress is amazing!”
Despite this great progress, WABC and Big Miao recognize the road ahead still needs to be paved. There are still families who do not accept art therapy as a real treatment.
“Art therapy is a seed,” said Miao. “We are waiting for it to blossom.”
In order to gain more training and more empirical evidence to bring home to gain support, WABC partnered with Antioch University.
“We know art is powerful, transformative, and necessary,” said Miao, when asked how professional training can improve WABC. “However, we still have questions on technique, behavior, how to interact with families, fundamentals, how to gain all the therapeutic benefits of artistic expression, and how to properly raise awareness.”
Hoshino added, “The teachers in WABC are hungry to learn. I’ve done two trainings with them in China and over fifty people attended. My heart is really with this organization.” Both Antioch University Seattle and WABC are eager to share the benefits of Art Therapy with as many people as possible.
Big Miao concluded his presentation by showing his students’ stunning artwork. Big Miao smiled and happily invited AUS students to join him in China.
“We all have advantages and disadvantages,” said Miao. “Together we can make each other better!”
Written by Art Therapy student Kim Bjanes