New nonprofit organization Northwest Expressive Arts Response offers healing through art

Ukrainian+flag+with+cut-out+hand+prints

Ukrainian flag with cut-out hand prints

Katherine Camarata, Scene Editor

Freshly-hung mirrors, works of art and vibrant rainbow prayer flags adorn the walls of the newly-opened office for local nonprofit organization Northwest Expressive Arts Response (NEAR) where on any given day, community members can be found playing drums and other instruments or transforming art supplies into stories to be told. 

According to the NEAR website, the nonprofit opened its doors in January and is located in the Methodist Church courtyard. Former lecturer at CWU and Executive Director for NEAR, Nancy Doolittle, said her personal art is holding a space and providing tools for people to express themselves. 

“I came up with that name, NEAR, to respond to a need of individuals, families, communities and schools,” Doolittle said. “In our county, we have severe concerns about youth, addiction and obviously overdosing. It was very sad last year; we had four students overdose.”

Doolittle said she hopes her nonprofit is able to address some of these concerns and needs in a way that helps process trauma, often in ways that don’t involve speaking out loud. 

“Sometimes if you’ve been traumatized, it’s difficult to even access the story, and via the arts, movement, theater, music, visual arts, dance … a story can be released and come out,” Doolittle said.

Doolittle said NEAR focuses on serving marginalized communities, such as immigrants, BIPOC, formerly incarcerated individuals and those without homes.

“We’re prioritizing populations that are underserved, underrepresented, immigrant and indigenous populations,” Doolittle said. “We’re available to create workshops in response to different needs that communities have.” 

NEAR recently hired a new intern, senior in English Professional and Creative Writing Chloeanne Erickson, who feels her background will allow her to connect with others.

“I’ll be working with houseless and homeless youth with creative writing as a tool for healing and confronting those issues,” Erickson said. “I have my own personal experience with those issues, so it feels very full circle to be able to give back to the community in that way.”

Erickson said she hopes those who are struggling with these issues will feel less alone seeing somebody like her who has overcome similar challenges. 

“It’s important for students who are navigating this … to have a tangible experience where they see their peers and other students who are struggling with this,” Erickson said. “It’s much more pervasive than we would like to see it as.” 

Doolittle said NEAR has partnered with an organization in Seattle called La Resistencia, which was created in response to detainees being kept at the Northwest detention center, and plans to continue working with their movement.

NEAR has become active in the community recently, and one of their first service projects occurred as a result of the war in Ukraine. After the war started in February, Doolittle and Gallery One director Monica Miller were hoping to show support to Ukraine by sewing two sheets together, one yellow and one blue, to create a Ukrainian flag. 

Doolittle sat at a table outside Gallery One during the First Friday Art Walk on March 1 and invited community members to trace their hands on paper, cut them out and write encouraging messages to attach to the flag. Photos of the flag were later sent to contacts in Ukraine to share.

“A couple united together for Ukraine; they made their hands with their wedding rings,” Doolittle said. “I met a mother and her daughter, and the daughter was half Ukrainian, the mother is a survivor of nazi Italy, and they both have their handprints on there.”

NEAR plans to continue inviting engagement by hosting three workshops in May as part of a series called Fuentes de Esperanza in partnership with El Centro Latino and Latin American Studies Program

The first workshop is called “Voices On the Wind: Prayers in Flight,” happening on May 5 at the Museum of Culture and Environment. The second workshop is called “Point in Time: Finding Home” happening on May 12. The final workshop is called “Book of Life: Telling Our Stories – Past, Present, Future,” happening on May 19.

Additionally, NEAR’s first fundraiser will be held on May 20 from 6-9 p.m. in the Hal Holmes Center and will feature live music performances. The event is free and open to all ages. Students can get involved by visiting the NEAR Facebook page or website.