Crossing Point Arts: Bringing Arts to Survivors of Human Trafficking: Q+A with Anne H. Pollack, Founder and Executive Director
Imagine a world without any access to creativity. Sounds horrible? Now imagine the worlds you can open up by helping to provide the arts to someone who has survived human trafficking. Sounds amazing? It is. Truly amazing.
Q: What is your mission?
Our mission is to bring the healing power of the arts – in experiential workshops led by Teaching Artists – into the lives of survivors of human trafficking.
Crossing Point Arts: Bringing the Arts to Survivors of Human Trafficking is a NYS nonprofit organization that provides a comprehensive array of experiential workshops in the arts to survivors of human trafficking. Our primary focus is offering support to survivors as they develop long-term coping strategies for managing PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) while providing workshop participants with a variety of creative avenues for expression, healing and community building.
Creative engagement has proved to be a powerful tool for healing, self- advocacy and a collective experience of ‘truth and reconciliation’ within the trafficking survivor population. Implemented by our Teaching Artists and supervised by Creative Arts Therapists, survivors’ narratives are addressed through a great number of artistic disciplines: dance, song-creation & recording, singing, percussion, fiber arts, drama, visual arts, poetry and spoken word.
Crossing Point Arts seeks to supplant the dehumanization within survivors’ experiences, offering a creative environment, which supports the reconnection to inner freedom. Our work offers the opportunity to reclaim the voice, which previously was silenced by an exploiter. As the world all-too-slowly acknowledges the plight of victims of human trafficking, the strong voices of survivors will be a key element in their effort to regain a foothold in a society that has been unable to fully acknowledge the reality of their experience. Our presence as creative advocates for their growth and unfolding is helping to build a community of individuals who hold the keys to inner liberation, and which ultimately supports other a growing collective of trafficking survivors seeking inner freedom.
Q: What prompted the founding of the organization?
Anne H. Pollack – Founder and Executive Director of Crossing Point Arts – is an activist, writer and multi-disciplinary musician/artist. Pollack became deeply perplexed when she surveyed the scene and discovered that survivors did not have access to healing through the channels of creativity. She sought to find a
solution to this void and concluded there was no better place than NYC to bring the arts as a tool for healing into the lives of survivors who are doing the hard work of rebuilding their lives.
Extensive internet research bore out that there were no models upon which the organization could be formatted, however the opportunity to place Teaching Artists within anti-trafficking agencies presented an immediate and elegant solution to the question of how to reach survivors. Since the arts were glaringly absent from the structure of local anti-trafficking agencies, which otherwise offer a range of resources to trafficking survivors (i.e. emergency housing, legal assistance, counseling, therapy, child-care, educational and job training opportunities, etc.) a format quickly became evident.
Anne set about training Teaching Artists to work with trafficking survivors while forming partnerships with numerous local anti-trafficking agencies…and scheduled workshops to begin. Linking creative and therapeutic tools to survivors of human trafficking through workshops in the arts proved to be an extremely effective match.
With no other US arts organization solely dedicated to serving this population, Crossing Point Arts has created the model for this initiative.
Q: How did you set goals for the organization?
Forming the idea for Crossing Point Arts came hand in hand with creating its structure. By initially partnering with Polaris Project (Newark, NJ) the workshops of Crossing Point Arts in music, dance and song creation were enthusiastically embraced by survivors and their case-workers. With this clear success the organization goals expanded to include more anti-trafficking agencies, and therefore survivors. Correspondingly the Teaching Artist roster has grown incrementally.
As of now we have reached over 1100 survivors, with 15 Teaching Artists offering workshops in six local anti-trafficking agencies. We are working with people who have been sex-trafficked and labor trafficked: domestic survivors (African American females, aged 12-22) and international survivors (African, Asian, Indian, Caribbean, Latin American and Middle Eastern aged 18-55).
With the understanding that our partner agencies budgets’ are stretched to the limit it was our determination that we would be self-funded, and this structure continues until today (with only one exception of a single agency that provides a partial stipend for our Teaching Artists). Trained, trauma-informed Teaching Artists must be a reliable presence and are therefore paid for their workshops, as is the Creative Arts Therapist who works as their Supervisor.
Q: How do you measure the impact of programs?
Anecdotal evidence looms large in measuring the impact of any work done on behalf of trafficking survivors. This is as true for Crossing Point Arts as it is for the caseworkers, therapists and lawyers of survivors, owing to the extremely unpredictable, fluid and unstable circumstances of their circumstances.
Our workshops are structured to present material that can for workshop participants easily be replicated or expanded upon beyond the scope of the hour(s) spent with the Teaching Artist. With the goal of normalizing the artistic process for survivors, and encouraging creative activities which can take place at home, we attempt to teach that the use of therapeutic tools can become part of daily life, aiding survivors in managing post traumatic stress, while intentionally using creative methods for the self-regulation and well-being.
The four corner-posts of our evaluative process are:
- Feedback from workshop participants themselves (25%-50% provide verbal or written feedback
- Reports (and/or demonstrations) of creative work done at home (10% – 25% report on, or demonstrate work completed at home).
- Survivors willingness to return to subsequent workshops (70% – 75% return for ongoing workshops)
- Caseworkers/therapists feedback (90%-100% of caseworkers provide feedback)
Following each workshop our Teaching Artists are required to complete a Teaching Artist Report Form, which captures data focusing on the above- mentioned evaluative process.
In the Fall of 2016, CPA in conjunction with NYU/Gouverneur Hospital, will begin a 2016 Psychosocial Research project* which will evaluate trafficking survivors’ reactions to our music workshop – and their ability to manage PTSD – we will soon have documented evidence, allowing us to call our method a “promising practice”. The research will be conducted under the auspices of our partner EMPOWERGyn.org, (Dr. Veronica Ades, ObGyn, NYU Langone, Gouverneur Hosp., Doctors Without Borders) and NYU School of Global Public Health (Dr. Phuong Tao Le, PhD)
Q: What has been the most successful aspect of this initiative?
Having the opportunity to make a difference in so many lives is an indescribable experience for everyone who is involved with Crossing Point Arts. As we all know, art can shift a story in an instant. It can be a companion when there is no other. And it opens the doors to thinking, feeling and acting in gestures of freedom like nothing else on earth.
Every one of our Teaching Artists has experienced the extraordinary power of restoring a basic human necessity into the life of survivors by offering access to healing through creativity.
Where does this all lead? Well…consider the alternative. If survivors who have endured the unthinkable do not have this liberating access, their internal suffering can potentially be endless.
“It is sadly the sense of being without real hope, without a sense of possibility, without a belief in their inherent ability to grow and change that keeps so many girls and young women trapped in the commercial sex industry.” ~ Rachel Lloyd, GEMS (Girls Education and Mentoring Service, NYC)
As we watch survivors regaining their bearings, and having the opportunity to become fully alive in their humanity, we are watching many, many people come into their own, finding and expressing their own voices.
Here are a few of the comments from our workshops:
“I really appreciate Anne giving me her time. She has helped me recognize my voice and talent and I actually believe it now. She helps me work through a lot of stuff in my head. Its been really healing.”
~ from The Recording Project
“It has been over a decade since I have been this happy!”
~ from The Drama Class
“One of the participants spoke to me after and expressed more interest in dance and she said that I brought encouragement and positivity and it really made her want to fight for what she wants, stay focused and continue on the path that she wants.”
~ from HipHop Fusion Dance
“I felt the words around was kind of spiritual circle and emotional and freedom…that is how much safe and happy I become…I did not reach this happiness for the last 2 years…I wish I could be there every time they have a workshop.”
“I feel so good. I feel so free. I feel right now like all that hurt never happened!”
~ from The Sounds of Life Workshop
Q: What have been the greatest challenges?
Funding has been our greatest challenge. The founder of this initiative has reached deeply into her personal resources to bring this organization into existence. Seed monies have supported stipends for our teaching artists and therapy supervision sessions. At present, Crossing Point Arts has no salaried- based employees.
Building a Board of Directors has presented a particular challenge. Though we currently have a Board President, Treasurer and two Board Members. Due to the complexity of establishing a new initiative and the start-up nature of the organization, the Board has not yet been able to move into direct fundraising.
With a very small operating budget, gathering dependable volunteers and/or interns to support Crossing Point Arts to take care of our ancillary needs, (i.e. Social Media, Press/Promotion, office assistance, bookkeeping, fundraising, etc.) has only provided negligible support.
Q: What fundraising strategies have you used?
Individual donations have made up the majority of Crossing Point Art’s funding. These donations have come as a result of networking, newsletter related appeals and online crowd sourcing. Numerous seed money grants have come through, and there has been one fundraiser (July 2015).
Currently, we have a gala scheduled for Oct 2016 and a benefit performance slated for April 2017 which will feature performances by world-renowned musicians, Sir James Galway & Lady Jeanne Galway (to take place in the home of our of our supporters).
Q: What fundraising strategy has worked the best?
Each of the strategies have been successful, however one-to-one conversations (as a result of networking) has proved to bring about the greatest level of financial support. Though the public readily responds to our work, to fully understand the necessity of our initiative requires that individual donors be reached emotionally. The relative ignorance surrounding human trafficking is the initial hurdle we face, followed by a thorough explanation about the transformative qualities of our work, and by the actual success stories that are best communicated in person.
Q: What’s the most critical lesson you’ve learned about nonprofit management?
A single idea is only as good as the legs that move it into the world. Communicating this idea effectively is only as good as the support that surrounds the structure, which gives expression to the concept. With such intense competition for funding, the uniqueness of an initiative, such as Crossing Point Arts, has worked both for and against our success. Effective management depends upon equanimity, faith, vision, passion, perseverance, and the quiet power of listening.
There is a tremendous din surrounding the prospect of fund-raising, and keeping a nonprofit afloat. So much of it tears us away from the work that sparked our initiative, and we fight as hard to stay connected to our mission as we do to support it.
Q: What changes do you anticipate in the nonprofit landscape over the next five to 10 years?
With Warren Buffet and Bill Gates setting the marvelous example of focused and purposeful generosity, the sense of social responsibility is on the increase. The appeal of these philanthropists has been very meaningful and introduced a modality that has touched the entire structure of giving. In contrast to the current extreme competition for grant money I suspect that within 10 years there will emerge an elevated and streamlined approach to getting important projects funded.
As the creator of www.Idealist.org (Ami Dar) indicated:
The granting process is cumbersome, time consuming, and not terribly effective. They absorb valuable labor and energy from Nonprofits that could be better spent focused on the problem that their organization was created to address.
It is our hunch that social responsibility will be ever more compelling for individuals, foundations and corporations, and the process of supporting important causes will become simplified, reducing the extreme expense of fundraising.
Q: How can others help support your organization’s mission?
We believe increased communication would be the strongest asset needed for Crossing Point Arts. By letting individuals and corporations know about our work, and how it assists trafficked survivors, will help us continue our goals to grow and support the communities we serve.
We need people on board to become stakeholders, ambassadors, donors, etc. Bringing in celebrity support (in the arts, or otherwise) will help vitalize our public persona and be a tremendously mobilizing energy.
Currently we also need on-the-ground support of Individuals who have an expertise in fundraising, technology (as we develop a Crossing Point Arts App) and/or corporate development, who would like to explore the opportunity to become part of either our Board of Directors or Advisory Board.
And, last but not least, we need space for Teaching Artist Trainings, Teaching Artist Supervision and Board Meetings, etc.
Recommended reading and links:
Crossing Point Arts Website: www.CrossingPointArts.org
Crossing Point Arts on Social Media:
Crossing Point Arts workshop highlighted on CNN ~ The Freedom Project:
Crossing Point Arts Informational Video:
Recent art exhibit of work created in our workshops:
General Information about human trafficking:
Information about creativity and healing from trauma: