Brian Singer’s 1001 Journals project evolves as art therapy

[Tom Biederbeck] Brian Singer’s 1000 Journals project created a sensation in the design world a few years back. His next evolution of the concept, 1001 Journals, takes the initiative into new dimensions … notably, art therapy in children’s hospitals. We talked with Singer about his growing venture and his commitment to helping kids recover.

The idea behind 1001 Journals is similar to your 1000 Journals project — get sketchbooks into the hands of artists, who then either fill the journals themselves or pass them along to others to complete. How does the new project differ?
The premise of the 1001 Journals project is that anyone can launch a journal — a personal journal, a traveling journal, or a journal that stays in one location. There are a few thousand journals launched so far, and over 15,000 images from them are online. The best part, though, is that we’ve been working with folks like UCSF Children’s Hospital, which has launched 100 journals that are being used by patients, families and hospital staff.

After launching the first project, I realized it was limited in scope — more of a message in a bottle. Opening the process up to allow anyone to launch a journal is a good way of making the project more inclusive, more accessible.

On the organizational level, we’re encouraging people to launch multiple journals. Besides hospitals like UCSF, the Skirball Cultural Center in LA is doing 100 of its own journals. Each of these organizations has its own group on the site, which is a way for them to have ownership of their own little slice of the project and control what gets scanned and goes online.

How does UCSF, for example, use the project?
UCSF wanted to launch journals as part of school and art therapy programs for patients. The children may be staying in the hospital, but they’re not always in bed, so the hospital offers them game time, music time … and they made journaling time one of those activities. In specific instances where a child may not be able to make it to the community areas, the journals are brought to the patients.

Logistically, UCSF’s situation is pretty complicated — they have to wipe down the journals to make sure no germs are transmitted and so forth. The contributors have to sign wavers [so their entries can be posted online].

What they found is that, because the journals are an outlet for emotions and creativity, the participants find a kind of safety in them. Patients use them to record their feelings, even though they might not be able to explain them to an adult. The journals become very helpful in the kids opening up and talking about what’s happening to them and becoming comfortable with dealing with it.

The group is in control of which journal entries get posted online and which don’t. This can become a very sensitive thing. For example, if one of the patients passes away, the family can remove entries online if they want to.

We’re in discussions with a number of other hospitals around the country that are launching projects or considering them.

What do you get out of the process?
UCSF invited me to come lead workshops, and it was an eye-opening experience. This is a hospital, with sick kids in it. It’s an emotional roller coaster. But when I heard the staff talk about how much the journals have helped the kids — things like how the kids with cystic fibrosis can’t really interact, so this is a way for them to communicate — I realized art therapy can save lives, even though there’s no way to quantify it.

Brian Singer with UCSF patients

I would love to see every hospital in America launch one of these projects. It takes work, and it takes resources. But once organizations do it, they see the value in it.

Brian Singer asks all organizations interested in launching a journal project to contact him at Singer is the founder of Altitude, a San Francisco design firm that engages people through inspiration. He is a former president of the San Francisco chapter of AIGA, has taught at the Academy of Art University, and serves on the advisory board for the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery.

Learn more about the original 1000 Journals project here.

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Comments (2)

  1. Posted by kris on 12.17.10 at 9:27 pm

    wow, this is great and very inspiring. thanks for sharing!

  2. Posted by Prudy on 03.3.14 at 12:57 pm

    Back in school, I’m doing so much leinanrg.

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