The Socially Engaged Artist and the Naropa Community Art Studio (NCAS)

Mission Statement

One week after 9/11, the Naropa Community Art Studio (NCAS), which is housed in the Art Therapy program, was created by Michael A. Franklin PhD, ATR-BC.  The overall goal of this long term, curriculum-driven project, is to cultivate the socially engaged art therapist. During a studio practicum in the first year, students learn how to design, create and finance a community-based studio.

The guiding vision behind the NCAS project is to provide a space for diverse groups to gather and create art together. Equal access for our studio members is stressed, particularly people who are marginalized and unlikely to have access to the humanizing practice of engaging in artistic behavior in community. Respect for cultural, ethnic, gender, and spiritual diversity is a founding principal of the NCAS. Unity in diversity, the birthright to pursue creative expression, and the capacity of visual art to contain and communicate the full range of human experiences comprise the essence of our mission and focus.

As of 2013:

  • Estimated total 4800+ participant visits
  • Estimated Total 600+ sessions
  • 190+ mentors trained

See:  Franklin, M.; Rothaus, M.; Schpock, K. (2005). "Unity in diversity: Communal pluralism in the art studio and the classroom." In Kaplan, F. (Ed.), Art therapy and social action: Treating the world's wounds. London and Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

In addition to serving the Boulder public, Naropa graduate students will have an opportunity to define, manifest and engage in a new paradigm for community-based service learning and art therapy education.


Naropa Community Art Studio-International (NCAS-I)

In January of 2011, a faculty member and 2 art therapy graduate students at the Naropa University began to entertain the idea of taking art therapy to work with social justice organizations abroad.  In a matter of a few months these three organized a team of passionate art therapy students, created a sound fundraising plan and joined in partnership with Transitions Global, a non-profit in Phnom Penh, Cambodia that works to support and empower survivors of sex trafficking and Anjali House in Siem Reap that provides education, health care, food and clean drinking water to impoverished children needing support.  Naropa Community Art Studio – International was born!

Since then we have been wildly blessed by community support and have currently raised over $40,000 through innovative fundraising and received a $25,000 grant from the Jenzabar Foundation to be distributed over the next three years so we may continue our work with Transitions and Anjali House and broaden our service learning to partner with other organizations in Cambodia as well.  We made our first trip to Cambodia in May 2012,  with 7 students and 1 faculty and we will be returning in May of 2013 with 11 students and 2 faculty.  On this trip we will be extending our service learning to include 4 more organizations! Missionaries of Charity, an orphanage that houses abandoned babies as well babies affected by HIV/Aids, Women's Handicraft and Development Association a cooperative consisting mainly of women and young people from traditional farming families living and working in Cambodia's rural Chamcar Bei village that produces handmade original pieces from local resources as well as using plastics to make recycled products, Chab Dai, a coalition that aims to address human trafficking and exploitation through coalition building, advocacy and research and Raggamuffin, a creative arts center in Phnom Penh committed to the relief of emotional pain and psychological damage in children and adults.

The intention behind this project is for our students to learn about the diverse issues in the Cambodian culture while also offering art therapy as means toward healing. With social justice as a cornerstone of our mission we aim to bring awareness to the many human rights concerns that plague the Cambodian people.

We are so grateful for the outpouring of support we have received from people all over the world in making this a sustainable and mutually beneficial project for all parties involved.  It really does take a village...a global one.


NCAS-I expands the boundaries of the Naropa University Community Art Studio from local to global. Rooted in the principle of collaboration and a belief in the innate wisdom, creativity, and interdependence of all, we, the art therapy graduate students and faculty, seek active engagement with social justice organizations around the world. We will use art therapy practices to help relieve suffering and maintain a vision of unity, as guests and learners in the communities we serve.

To learn more about our project please follow us at