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History of NYATA


Follow the link to watch the full video where Dr. Wolf dives into the history of the New York Art Therapy Association.


I’m proud to present the launch of the NYATA History page. What better way to do that than to have an eye witness account of early events. 

Dr. Robert I. Wolf, known to most of us as Bob, was the first student member of NYATA, as it was hatching and trying to figure out what it was. As Bob mentions, no one really knew what art therapy was, and we were always asked to explain and define art therapy. Bob also was in the first class to graduate from Pratt Institute’s Graduate Art Therapy and Creativity Development Program with an MPS, but the second class to graduate. The program was still forming and morphing. For these reasons, I asked Bob to make a video about the early days of NYATA and art therapy in New York. That’s why, throughout the video, Bob comments on what Beth asked him to address in the video. It’s important to point out that Bob also addresses early AATA issues and the infamous territorial war about the art therapy journal. Bob addresses these because he was there, active with NYATA and AATA. 

As an Industrial Design student at Pratt Institute, Bob was required to take psychology courses. Even when I studied at Pratt a few years later, Industrial Design and Architecture students were in our psychology courses. I enjoyed the dynamic of having them there. Bob describes the very animated Josef Garai teaching the psychology course and enthralling him with stories of social justice and understanding the human mind. Arthur Robbins was also teaching psychology to Industrial Design and Architecture students, but Bob did not meet him until he was a graduate student. He was so impressed with Art that he wanted to “be like him” and so entered NPAP where he trained and studied for eight more years post masters degree. Both Robbins and Garai were excited about teaching psychology theory to gifted young artists, and from the way I understand the story, that’s how Pratt Institute’s Graduate Art Therapy and Creativity Development Program came to be. 

As Bob clearly describes, the social movements of the 1960s, against the Viet Nam war, for Civil Rights and Women’s Rights, led to a surge in people being interested in studying social psychology and human services. So, that is one of the reasons that, by the time I entered Pratt in 1974, the program had grown quite large, and we were split into two groups. Bob refers to the dynamics of the Robbinettes and the Falconettes, that is, students studying under two professors representing a somewhat different approach to art therapy. This dynamic did exist, but, honestly, most of us students were too busy working internships and jobs to pay the steep tuition, that we did not participate in this. However, Bob offers it as a piece of Pratt’s history. And I would love anyone else from any of the NYS art therapy education programs to submit a video or comments about the history of that program and personal stories of the influential professors there.

Bob was my first supervisor at Pratt when I began in 1974. I was impressed by his political involvement in both NYATA and AATA and became involved myself. As a student, I attended the wonderful Creative Arts Therapy Alliance Conference at the Roosevelt Hotel that Bob discusses in the video. And he did basically run the conference, becoming the NYATA President by default, when the reigning president, Steve Ross, flew the coop for reasons unknown! But Bob did a great job, and the Joseph Campbell keynote was indeed memorable. 

Bob talks about the early NYATA storefront meetings. Edith Kramer and Vera Zilzer were early movers and were representatives of NYU. Gladys Agell was on Pratt’s faculty and was the first NYATA president. It’s her name that’s signed on our NYS incorporation papers. Gladys moved to Vermont shortly thereafter and started the Graduate Art Therapy Program at Vermont College (in the video, Bob refers to this but could not remember where Gladys landed after Pratt). And here is the NYATA logo designed by Bob, and, as he says, it was used for decades!

NYATA logo designed by Bob Wolf

Bob recounts a beautiful story of his photographing Edith Kramer working with blind children, and what an unforgettable experience for a young art therapist. When I was the NYATA president in the 1990s, I talked Edith into letting us have regular Open Studio nights in her SoHo loft. She couldn’t resist expressing her opinion on matters, so we received pearls of wisdom, while sharing her space with her. It was inspirational.

When Gladys moved to Vermont, Bob was really the only political mover left at Pratt. Pratt, as a program was pretty apolitical regarding participation in NYATA and AATA. So, I’m glad that Bob was my mentor because I became very political with NYATA, AATA, and NYS. As anyone who has ever sat in my classroom knows, I support political action and encouraged students to join NYATA and AATA. Those of us from Pratt who became more political used to joke within NYATA that Pratt people and NYU people were not supposed to “play” together, but we broke that boundary in NYATA. And all of us in NYATA and on the Board worked hard together for Art Therapy, regardless of where we came from.

 As Bob also mentions, Art Robbins was opposed to pursuing licensure. No offense to Art, but I used to get a little annoyed when he spoke about this because he had a NYS license under which he was practicing psychotherapy. Bob, himself, offers thoughts against licensure, as well. But I strongly disagree. Yes, there are definitely unintended consequences as a result of being licensed, but these smooth out or readjust as the process unfolds. My personal and professional belief is that licensure offers more respect and credibility to stand with other mental health professionals. Early in the video, Bob describes the wacky 1960s and 1970s when there was no regulation of psychotherapy. Anyone could hang up a shingle and call themselves a therapist. This is the most important thing a license does. It regulates who can practice and protects the consumer. In fact, that is how our licensing bill passed. We re-framed it as a consumer protection bill. But that’s a long story for another section.

A valuable point Bob makes is that regulating art therapy practice and education can squash creativity to a certain extent, diminishing one of our missions of creativity development. But I see that as a challenge to figure out how to bring more creativity into these new parameters. 

Please sit back and enjoy Bob’s stories of early NYATA and AATA. As I’ve already said, I welcome any other submissions from some of you out there who have stories to tell about art therapy in NYS:

Dr. Beth Gonzalez-Dolginko, LCAT, ATR-BC, NYATA HLM

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