Commonweal has a long history as a center for art and healing. We have seen the value of the arts as a vehicle to and modality for self expression, inspiration, and healing. The connection between the two runs as a thread through many of our programs, most notably the Commonweal Cancer Help Program, Healing Circles, the Center for Creative Community, and our Sandtray work.

Over the years, we have developed a model for using art and healing in communities, and we’ve found that it works well, bringing transformation and insight to diverse groups. Our facilitators come to this work with humility, allowing people space to find their own voice and way. The model is not dogmatic or prescriptive. There is a quality of mystery that surrounds creativity and the arts; we find that this quality allows for a greater sense of healing, belonging, and relating.

The model works by creating a strong community container and then introducing the opportunity for new experiences and challenges—something just out of normal comfort range for participants. We find that growth happens by creating new thresholds and moving past boundaries. Creativity and art provide a non-threatening and safe space for moving into new territories, where healing and growth happens.

In fact, we believe that the future of Commonweal lies both in our environmental and health work and in our ability to bring creativity and the arts to diverse communities for transformation, healing, and change. Our goal is to be even more intentional about how art and creativity play a role in our programs.

Commonweal’s Art and Healing Lineage

Many visionary leaders have contributed to Commonweal’s collective model for art and healing work. Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, came to the Commonweal Cancer Help Program early on as medical director, bringing with her the the seeds of what developed into her Discovery Model Process. In her subsequent work with thousands of medical and nursing students around the world—and with Cancer Help Program participants still today—creativity allows people to find their authentic voice, build resiliency, and step into to a new place of perception where bridges to self and others can be built.

Commonweal Co-Founder and Director Michael Lerner understood the importance of healing and the arts in the treatment of cancer and other illnesses early on. During a time when conventional treatments for cancer were generally the only options, he saw a complementary place for art and creativity. In addition to c0-founding Commonweal, he founded the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, DC, to support cancer patients with integrated healing therapies. The Lloyd Symington Foundation was an early collaborator and supporter of Michael and his integrated healing approach to cancer treatment, funding the first of many Symington Conferences looking at new directions in cancer care starting in 1988.

Chief Strategies Officer Oren Slozberg brings a strong background in arts and creativity to his work at Commonweal. In 2003, Oren co-founded the MMG Foundation, dedicated to Visual Thinking Strategies in California public schools. In May 2006, he became executive director of Visual Understanding in Education, the national organization that implements Visual Thinking Strategies in the United States and abroad, reaching more than 75,000 students. His Commonweal program, the Center for Creative Community, explores the intersection of dialogue, cognition, creativity, and community with program offers such as the Power of Hope youth camp, the Ecology of Awareness program, and the Commonweal Gatherings.

Commonweal’s Art and Healing Offerings

screen-shot-2017-06-07-at-11-49-24-amPower of Hope Youth Camps

A part of Commonweal’s Center for Creative Community, the Power of Hope youth camps build a new way of being for youth 14-18 years old—breaking down barriers between differences, encouraging creativity, developing leadership, and teaching how to listen to each other—skills and new ways of being in community that every teenager will take home with them. Art and creativity to tap into the parts of the brain that therapy doesn’t—both making and viewing art allows for expression and insight. The Power of Hope model helps youth transform challenging experiences and trauma, building community and inspiring leadership for the future.

“Look Clubs” — Visual Thinking Strategies

[OREN, do you have the Look Clubs up on a website somewhere?]

Visual Thinking Strategies is a group problem-solving process that uses art to cultivate a willingness and ability to present ideas while respecting and learning from the perspectives of others. Visual Thinking Strategies is used in schools and museums around the world as a learning curriculum and as a method of discussion. “Look Clubs” are groups that meet regularly, like book clubs, to evaluate art and to practice deep looking and thinking. Commonweal’s Center for Creative Community hosts quarterly Look Clubs in San Francisco, Marin County, and the East Bay. Contact Oren Slozberg for more information.


Michael Lerner with Marion Saltman, who brought Sandtray to Commonweal in 1985


Sandtray is hands-on psychological work, a powerful therapeutic technique and creative process that facilitates the psyche’s natural capacity for healing. Stemming from a Jungian technique, it is a process of allowing our unconscious to spontaneously select objects from an array of many objects, arranging the objects in a sandtray, and then observing the resulting scene to gain insight into ourselves. Commonweal has been using Sandtray therapy for decades in the Commonweal Cancer Help Program. The Sandtray room at Commonweal is available for use for other individual and group use. Contact Oren Slozberg for more information.

Gallery Commonweal

Gallery Commonweal is a 1,500-square-foot gallery located in our administrative building in Bolinas, California. Starting in 1997, Gallery at Commonweal has shown between two and six exhibitions a year, focused on the ability of art to heal our bodies, minds, and souls. The gallery has 30-foot ceilings, large north- and south-facing windows, and unique detail from the historic nature of the building. Open Monday through Friday, 10 am – 4 pm, the space is also used as an events venue, with hundreds of people passing through each year to experience and enjoy the exhibits.  We invite groups to use Gallery Commonweal, or the smaller, adjoining Omega Room, as a community rental space for meetings or events. Contact Kyra Epstein for more information.


Gallery Commonweal