DKG Society International Germany

Internationale Gesellschaft für Frauen im Bildungsbereich

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Maria Katharina Heimbach wrote to us regarding an interesting program for refugees .
Closlieu - Paint and Play - An Integration Project of Delta Chapter of The Delta Kappa Gamma Society International Germany

  “Closlieu” (from the French "clos", meaning enclosed or enclosure, and "lieu", place).

Arno Stern was born in Kassel/Germany in the summer of 1942. At the age of nine he was forced to leave Germany together with his parents. The persecution and murder of Jews under the Nazis gave the family no other alternative but to flee, first to France. For ten years the family faced the risk of detection. The family was then held at a detention camp in Switzerland for three further years. In 1946, at the age of 22, robbed of his childhood and early youth, Arno Stern was assigned to a home for war orphans in Paris. His job was to look after the children. He let them paint.

Aware of the special nature of his assignment, Arno Stern went about creating the conditions necessary for the children to be able to paint. In due course he created the so-called “palette table,” offering an array of special Gouache paints and brushes and a “protective ambience,“ first in 1949 in his living-room, and then around 1950 in a studio in St. Germain des Pres. This was the room where the children, with the help of paint and brush, were able to give free and playful expression to their inner needs. He created a space – the “Closlieu,” a place to paint, where there was no criticism, no evaluation, no grading. What’s more, the pictures stayed in the room and were kept in folders. The aim here is not the picture itself but feeling good within the secureness of the room. After 60 years of experience with the Closlieu and a wide range of fieldwork with nomads in Africa, Peru, Mexico, Niger, Afghanistan, Guatemala, Ethiopia, New Guinea, Arno Stern refers to “Formulation,” a universal capacity that activates people’s ability to play and allows them to find a form of expression emanating from organic memory. This is where painting/playing children, young people and adults can enjoy moments of tranquility by expressing themselves on paper. Here, they are at one with themselves. In recent years research in neurobiology and embryology has drawn on the results of Arno Stern’s work. There are over 500,000 filed samples.

The initiative to develop an integration concept based on Arno Stern’s Closlieu has evolved as a result of the growing number of refugees coming to Europe. The idea is that refugees together with non-refugees, primarily women and children, discover anew within the sheltered ambience of the Closlieu their ability to play, without evaluation or criticism, and to find expression for their inner needs by drawing on organic memory. “A stroke of the brush, a chance moment to express innermost needs enables some-one to find his true self again.” (Arno Stern). Being together helps bring down language barriers and offers the opportunity not only to overcome traumata but also to regain dignity and identity. A “sponsorship contract” between refugee and non-refugee women/children guarantees that a part of the annual costs are covered, and it caters to mutual responsibility. The “sponsorship contract” opens up opportunities for other activities offered to refugees, such as learning to deal with the new language. The paint-play concept not only helps deal with traumata and fears, it also bolsters self-esteem. And this all provides a long-term motivation to learn the German language. A regular group structure offers orientation and a sense of security. This again supports the notion of helping people to help themselves within the family and within society. Other forms of help involve medical and therapeutic care, filling in forms, leisure activities, etc. Most of the refuges are male. This integration model is intended to give refugee women and children an opportunity to integrate and partake of education.

Committing to attending the Closlieu at least once a week for one year creates an opportunity for the paint/play concept in the Closlieu to make an impact. According to Arno Stern people need a specific length of time to feel the benefits of this form of painting. One year creates the opportunity of getting to know each other. Voluntary interpreters, therapists and doctors are there to support the project.

The Closlieu has been established in association with the Oldenburg School of Art, an officially supported facility. The Oldenburg School of Art provides room and overhead costs. Delta Chapter of the Delta Kappa Gamma Society International Deutschland is responsible for providing equipment and materials, for personnel (voluntary work of DKG members) and transportation of refugee participants. Helga Reinders, retired art teacher and member of Delta Chapter, attended an intensive, educational two-week course in Paris with Arno Stern. Helga is the manager and leader of the project.