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Art therapy: More than those adult coloring books

Eight years ago, David McCauley dove into the shallow end of a pool in the Hamptons. He hit his head on the bottom and the compression shattered his C6 vertebrae (his spinal chord). He became a quadriplegic.  A former skateboarder, snowboarder, and Wall Street director of sales, McCauley’s life changed in an instant. He spent the next four months in the hospital followed by three-and-a-half months in therapy at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. There he found the most liberating medicine: art therapy.

“Aside from all the stuff you do in the gym, which you need, art therapy was such a mental healing for me,” he says. “It had a profound impact on me.”

The instructor would have formal assignments for each session, but if patients did not want to adhere to the curriculum, they were encouraged to “kill the white,” meaning fill the space. McCauley remembers his first project was an orange square.

“I love practicing your brushstrokes,” he says. “I have very limited dexterity and especially at that early stage post incident, you don’t even have your balance. You lean over to make a brushstroke and you’ll face plant onto the table. It’s frustrating but you’re adapting.”

He moved to Miami 4.5 years ago for the weather and the vibrant art scene and opened Rise Up Gallery, a small gallery space in Wynwood that exhibits work created in art therapy workshops at Jackson Memorial and other work created by disabled artists.

Today, his days are spent at his studio in Laundromat Art Space (another art gallery he owns in Little Haiti) surrounded by his motivational work. “Passion Precedes Profit” reads one piece. Another says “Heart > Hype” over two skateboards. In the afternoon, he wheels himself to 47th and Biscayne, where he instructs a weekly art therapy workshop at Center for Independent Living of South Florida.

While McCauley focuses on visual art therapy, there are other mediums such as music, dance-movement, and video. The goal is to liberate the patient from their pain, discomfort, or blockage and channel that into creative expression. Since starting his program here in Miami, McCauley says he’s seen a grown interest in the therapy.

This is a licensed art therapy provider locator and here is a rundown of spaces that offer these therapeutic workshops.

Center for Independent Living of South Florida, Inc.
Fridays 3p.m. to 5 p.m.
4770 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami FL 33137
(305) 751-8025

Paintitout: Creative Art and Wellness Workshop
166 NE 96 St.
Miami Shores, FL 33138
(305) 987-9701

Wow Center for Music Therapy
11450 SW 79 St.
Miami, FL 33173

Spectrum Dance Movement Therapy
15641 Sheridan St. Suite 300
Davie fl 33331
(305)209-6192

  • Woody B

    Hi Alexandra,

    I was wondering if you could share the video and/or pictures with me.

    Woody Beckham
    Center for Independent Living

  • Woody B

    Hi Alexandra,

    I was wondering if you could share the video and/or pictures with me.

    Woody Beckham
    Center for Independent Living