Art Transmutes, Art Transcends: Laura Sharpe and Artists for Trauma

On May 24th, 2008, Laura Sharpe, one of her daughters and a few family friends boarded a helicopter in Long Beach, California, intending to travel to Catalina Island for the Memorial Day weekend. Her husband and his friend traveled to the Island via boat.   

The helicopter experienced mechanical malfunction, causing the aircraft to crash on the island and explode on impact. That day, three precious lives were lost, their families and communities devastated. Sharpe, the other front seat passenger positioned next to the pilot, was  “completely decimated,” she tells PositiveVibes Magazine. Indeed, and bridging death, she suffered disabling and disfiguring life altering injuries, including traumatic brain injury, multiple spinal cord injuries, disfiguring burns, 43 fractures throughout her body including her face, near loss of an eye orbit: a partial amputation to her left mutilated foot due to contracted MRSA.

With such a devastating incident and forced to live with its life-altering impacts physically, mentally and emotionally, one can imagine how easy it would be for Sharpe to resign herself to a desolate state of mind characterized by depression, hopelessness, and other negative emotions—how easy it would be to paint her seemingly cruel world in dull hues of gray. Yet, despite her pain, she made the conscious decision to recreate herself and rediscover life’s vibrancy during her early years of  recovery through a journey of  exploration with multiple art disciplines and creative expressions. Photography, film, sculpture, dance and music.  All original works of art co-created collaboratively from reassociated medical materials that were a part of those first 3 years of medical treatment.   Blessed by collaboration from six, world renowned, professional  artists from her and her family’s network, Sharpe was able to significantly enhance the quality of her recovery process.  In  March 2011 she  co-curated her first art exhibition titled The Laura Project: “Re-Membered: Interpretations of Reconstruction.” In other words, Sharpe’s creativity allowed her to transmute negativity into positivity, thus transcending her circumstances.  

She shares with PositiveVibes Magazine her infinite gratitude and respect for artists, Judy Starkman and Bill Lagattuta along with Cheryl Ekstrom, Brad Howe, Zari Wigfall and Christopher Reutinger.  Without Judy and Bill along with the others, The Laura Project would not have manifested into the extraordinary successful art event it was.  Sharpe notes their collaboration was designed to honor  the entire medical community and village of first responders, family and friends who compassionately and professionally united as a team to save Laura’a life.

Recognizing the irrefutable healing properties of art, Sharpe aimed to pay her gratitude forward by assisting others also disabled and/or disfigured due to life-altering trauma. In July 2011, Sharpe began working with her first life-altered trauma survivor via a medical referral. This pursuit marked the founding of Artists for Trauma (AFT), an organization dedicated to providing trauma survivors with the opportunity to create art, connect with others, and, most importantly, reconnect with themselves, their families and communities just as Sharpe had. As the founder, board president, and chief executive officer of this charitable organization, Sharpe ensures that AFT prioritizes the survivor, accommodating individuals recovering from all kinds of trauma, both physical, mental and emotional. In an effort to be a best-practice organization, Sharpe and her team first begin by cultivating a relationship with each survivor using a confidential survey that will tell her team about the individual and their creative interests. Does music make their soul sing? Is it mindful movement that will finally set their recovery in motion? AFT, then utilizes their network to develop workshops for the survivor, working with artists and healthcare professionals to adapt the artform where necessary. The survivor chooses their own pacing to participate in the resulting workshop, sometimes opting to merely observe their chosen artistic process, other times fully involving themselves in the process. In any case, Sharpe and her team skillfully establish an environment based upon inclusivity and interactivity, molding each artistic experience to the unique survivor and, ultimately, sculpting a beneficial experience for them.

Today, Sharpe and us here at PositiveVibes are looking forward to Artists for Trauma’s upcoming 2021 events. In particular, Sharpe will be joining Chelsie Hill and The Rollettes, a group of talented women who make up a wheelchair hip hop dance team for the Rollettes Experience LIVE 2021 in Los Angeles, CA. There, she will be speaking on a panel about entrepreneurship following disability and sharing her personal story. Shortly thereafter AFT will team up with the highly respected street artist Kelly “RISK” Graval for a fundraiser. Proceeds will support the construction of AFT’s “Artist Retreat” atelier at RISKROCK studios. On October 3rd, AFT and entrepreneur Karen Michelle are excited to host The Love Your Body Event (LYB), a fun-filled affair focused on empowerment through fashion and other artwork. LYB will also feature the first Artists in the Garden Auction, these proceeds will go towards the aforementioned “Artist Retreat.” Among the guests at this event and one of the show’s models will be the phenomenal singer and inspiring America’s Got Talent 2018 finalist Kechi Okwuchi. Finally, AFT is slated to produce and curate a second art installation at California Rehabilitation Institute in Century City.

When speaking about the above partners, Sharpe was sure to highlight the importance of their causes and to emphasize how grateful she was for their willingness to collaborate. Now, PositiveVibes would like to thank you, Laura Sharpe, for your positive contributions to the never-ending creative process we humans call “life.” As you know, the two simple words “thank” and “you” can never quite capture the colors of true gratitude. Still, we hope you understand how much we appreciate the heart you put into helping survivors transmute and transcend their trauma—the heart you put into your art, into the masterpiece that is Artists for Trauma.

Written by Kiersten Wright

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