Ashes2Art Program

Creative arts for first respondersA2A1


Ashes2Art Program

Who are we? Ashes2Art (A2A) was established by Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Captain William Best and artist Kathy Sullivan as a platform for first responders to explore creative outlets for resiliency strengthening. A2A is a nonprofit organization that provides classes, open studios, and creative peer support to interested emergency services personnel.


Why are we? First responders experience a myriad of stressors that accumulate over time and can cause significant emotional and physical challenges. The effects of the job include exposure to death, grief, injury, pain, or loss as well as direct exposure to threats of personal safety, long hours of work, frequent and longer shift hours, poor sleep, physical hardships, and other negative experiences (Botha, Gwin, & Purpora, 2015). A resistance to wellness is pervasive and can be attributed to lack of time, complicated insurance providers, lack of trust, stigma, job repercussions, and limited wellness approaches.

First responders need to remain strong and protected in order to continue their active duty in this life saving profession. Therefore, Ashes2Art realized the most effective approach to address cumulative stress for this population would be to offer the creative arts process as a counterbalance to the destruction of the job. By providing a safe, fun, explorative environment, A2A provides unconditional peer support in the promotion of self-care and wellness necessary for resiliency.



Why the creative arts? The amount of research conducted over the last 20 years on the relationship between the creative arts and health has grown tremendously. The creative arts have been shown to significantly affect hormonal and autonomic reregulation; reduction of physiological markers associated with stress; cognitive and emotional flexibility; neurobiological changes in immune function; and decreased psychological trauma and depression. The world health organization (2019) reviewed 3000 studies involving the role of the arts in health and wellbeing, concluding that there was “a major role for the arts in the prevention of ill health, promotion of health, and management and treatment of illness across the lifespan”. The creative arts are especially effective with first responders because it provides an “output” to counterbalance the amount of “input” experienced on the job and throughout society.A2A4


How to proceed?  Start to incorporate the creative arts into first responder resiliency models. This is essential in managing cumulative stress while providing safety and fun. The creative arts come in many different forms; woodworking, metalsmithing, drawing, writing, gardening, cooking, welding, collage, sculpting, glassblowing, mosaics, sewing— Anything that is a creative form of expression will stimulate the brain and nervous system lessening the build-up of stress.


A2A6Ashes2Art is available to work with interested groups or individuals to explore this method of wellness. Our website is coming soon as well as reports and studies based on our program. Ashes2Art is always free to further discuss the results of our program.









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