Student Blog Entry: The Ethics of Matchbox Art

“The Ethics of Matchbox Art”

By James Huffman

As part of our preparation for our work in Cambodia we have been exploring ethical issues related to the field of art therapy. Our beacon through this, sometimes cloudy area, has been Bruce Moon’s (2006) work, Ethical Issues in Art Therapy, which does an excellent job highlighting various perspectives and providing scenarios for consideration. As prepared as we may feel, however, for whatever ethical dilemmas we may encounter, there will always be situations which fall outside our textbooks and where we will have to exercise our best judgment.

One such situation occurred several weeks ago at a youth matchbox art making party at Sterling Drive Studios. It was the end of the night and we had just begun the tedious work of deciding which scraps of paper and fabric were large enough to keep and which to throw away, whether it is worth it to fish those 7 beads out of the dustpan or should we toss the whole mess… We had given the artists the option of either donating their matchboxes at the end of the night or keeping them and had received several donations. In the chaos of cleanup, some of the donated matchboxes were placed on the same table as scraps and other materials to be sorted. One piece of matchbox art was particularly confusing – several crumpled pieces of paper drizzled in hot glue with matchsticks stuck seemingly at random throughout it. Initially thinking this to be trash, I threw it in the garbage with the other used and discarded materials. When later I saw it back on the table, I was told it was a donated matchbox with a $1,000 price tag (artists are allowed to suggest a minimum bid for their work).

After cleanup we began packing the donated matchboxes for travel and faced the decision of what to do with the cup. In all likelihood, the extravagant pricetag was a joke and the $1,000 minimum bid would not be met. We would then have to make arrangements after the Gala to return the matchbox to the artist, creating more work for ourselves. So do we keep it?

I believe the answer is yes. As art therapists it is important to define the playing field and stick to the boundaries we set, especially in work with youth and adolescents where conflicts over boundaries are more likely to occur (Santrock, 2010). Boundaries can be reassessed as we go, but they should not be applied retroactively. In this instance we had not provided any boundaries around what the matchbox art should look like or what the minimum bids should be. There is also the possibility that the artist is an aspiring trash sculptor – the likes of HA Schult – and honestly believes their work is worth $1,000. We can’t really know. All we know for certain is that the artist created a unique piece of art, then took the time to fill out a donation form and it is up to us to honor that donation.

Santrock, J. (2010). Lifespan Development. New York: McGraw-Hill

*details have been changed to protect the identity of the artist

Back In The Swing of Things

PLUS!  Photos from “Festival on Main” in Downtown Longmont and 10,000 Prayer Flags for Cambodia

Naropa University students are getting back into the swing of things today, with the first week of the fall semester here.  As we all look forward to a fruitful year filled with exciting, new experiences and invaluable learning opportunities, students and faculty involved in the Naropa Community Art Studio – International (NCAS-I) have already been hard at work.

We attended Festival on Main in Downtown Longmont last Friday, August 24, where an estimated 18,000 people ventured to watch street performers, listen to live music, play games, eat local food…and make prayer flags with the NCAS-I!  A big “THANKS” to Naropa University, who shared their booth, and the City of Longmont for supporting us in raising awareness for the NCAS-I and its mission.  We walked away with HUNDREDS of handmade prayer flags generously made by attendees of the festival.  Enjoy photos below from the festival:

What do you think about our goal of collecting 10,000 prayer flags to take with us to Cambodia in May of 2013?  Would you like to help us reach that goal?  Stay tuned for the NCAS-I’s upcoming events and you can make one or a dozen!  We’ll have a booth at all of our events.

“The Arts Never Lie.” – The Ragamuffin Project

The Ragamuffin Project on Creative Arts Therapy:

“The arts never lie – the art we make acts as a mirror to our inner lives. As such, it goes to the source of our distress whilst enabling us to safely express chaotic and painful feelings. The process brings order, like making a home beautiful again after someone has broken in and ruined everything. As we begin to understand why we feel so low, or just repeat the same mistakes again and again, or think ourselves useless and worthless we can begin to choose something new for our lives. Each little revelation makes restoration possible. The restoration of hope, of self-belief, re-gaining balance and finding peace. Pain can be transformed into power – the power to change things for good.”

Artwork from the Ragamuffin Project, by artist Toha Hasan

The NCAS-I will have the privilege of spending time with The Ragamuffin Project in Cambodia very soon!  The Ragamuffin Project consists of a group of qualified, registered and accredited Arts Therapists working with statutory and voluntary sector organizations in the UK, Cambodia, Russia and Peru.  Please peruse their webpage here if you would like more information on their work.

(Quote and images from:

Dream Catchers: My Dream Is To…

“My dream is to open my own restaurant someday.”  “I hope to own a small hotel in the future.”  “I dream of marrying a good man, owning a home and having children.”  “Someday I would like to ride my very own motorbike.”  “I would like to own a home so my mother can live with me and not have to work collecting recycling anymore.”  “I would like to have a good job, so I can have an income for food and support my own family.”  “I dream of having a good job to save enough money to build a house where my sister and I could live together.”  “I dream of attending a university after high school to become a nurse or social worker.” – From the girls at Transitions, an organization that shelters and rehabilitates girls survivors of the sex trafficking industry

Art Activity:  Dream Catcher

~Capturing both your dreams and creativity~

A Dream Catcher by Voyle Graham

A Dream Catcher by Voyle Graham, from

That Artist Woman offers thorough step-by-step instructions on how to make a dream catcher in a blog post titled, “How to Make a Dreamcatcher” at the link below.  Check it out!

Pinterest has some beautiful and inspiring images of dream catchers, too!  Take a look here:

Remember these Dream Flags from the Matchbox Art Auction?  They offered a great way for everyone at the event to send wishes to the children and families in Cambodia at Transitions, Raggamuffin Project, and Anjali House!  NCAS-I will be delivering them soon.

(Quotes from

Art Activities in Cambodia…Donations Welcome!

Are you curious about the art activities we have planned for our trip to Cambodia in a few weeks?  Check out our ideas below!  We will be using them with the girls at Transitions and a local orphanage:

Medicine Bags, Handmade Journals, Felted Animals, Pendant Charms with Beads, Worry Dolls, T-Shirts, Basket Weavings, Shadow Puppets and Theaters, Self Care Pouches

What do you think about this “Wee Mouse Tin House” idea from mmmcrafts for the felted animals and worry dolls?  Cozy little beds made from Altoids cans!

We want the girls at Transitions and the local orphanage to be able to continue making art after we leave, so we will be putting together art bags with various supplies for some of the activities above.  The NCAS-I welcomes any of the following donations:

9 X 12 Pad of good quality paper, Boxes of oil pastels and chalk pastels, Watercolor sets, Colored pencils, Markers, Paintbrushes (various sizes), Good cutting scissors, Fabric glue, Glue sticks, Small bottles of white school glue, Decorative items (ribbon, yarn, sequins, beads, feathers, glitter, fabric scraps), Sewing needles and thread, Wool for needle felting, Felting needles, T-Shirts (size small), Bendable wire for making armature, Pretty paper and collage images, Black construction paper, Large popsicle sticks, Mat board (for journal covers), Book binding needles, Essential oils and herbs.

Phew!  If you’re interested in making a donation, send us a message on the blog or on Facebook…and tell your friends!
***Image from

A Look at Contemporary Artists in Cambodia

In hopes of offering sustainable art practices for participants and staff at Transitions, as well as for those working in the community, one of our intentions for the upcoming trip to Cambodia is to research contemporary arts and culture.  For now, we’re doing our research from home, searching the internet for inspiration…

An excerpt from a 2009 CNN article Cambodian art: Past to present describes the artistic community in Cambodia:

Cambodia, which lost an estimated one-quarter of its population or at least 1.7 million people — including an estimated 90 percent of its artists — under the 1970s Khmer Rouge regime, has a small but growing artistic community: there are some 50 practicing artists out of its 14 million people, according to Phnom Penh-based curator Erin Gleeson.

Here’s a look at the artwork of a few of Cambodia’s contemporary artists:

Sopheap Pich
"Cycle 2, Version 3," 2008, Rattan and Wire, from

Leang Seckon
"Cambodian Faces," 2010, Mixed Media on Canvas, from

Chan Dany
"Kbach Phni Vois," Pencil Shavings on Wood, from

Duong Saree
"Untitled," 2005, Oil on Canvas, from

A more recent article, Cambodia’s art revolution reaches global market, includes even more artists!

The Flute Player: Arn Chorn-Pond

Arn Chorn-Pond is the founder and spokesperson of Cambodian Living Arts, an organization that seeks to transform Cambodia through the arts. He has invited the NCASI team to meet him and stay with him at his Cambodian home! What an honor and a privilege to meet this incredible man. Here’s his story:

Born into a family of performers and musicians from Cambodia’s second-largest city, Battambang, Arn was sent to a children’s work camp after the Khmer Rouge came to power in 1975. He escaped death by execution and starvation by playing his flute for the camp’s guards and later fled his captors when Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia in 1979. He managed to reach a refugee camp in Thailand where Peter Pond, a Lutheran minister and aid worker, befriended and adopted him in 1980.

Educated in the United States, attending Brown University and graduating Providence College, Arn began a series of community rebuilding projects and founded several organizations, including Children of War, Cambodian Volunteers for Community Development, and Peace Makers, a U.S.-based gang-intervention project for Southeast Asian youth. In the mid 1990s, Arn returned to Cambodia on a mission to find the legacy of his family that was involved in the Cambodian Opera, his music teacher from the time of the Khmer Rouge and the stars of his early childhood. On this trip the Cambodian Masters Performers Project, now Cambodian Living Arts.


You can see the documentary that was made about his work below:

Matchbox art from Mimi Farrelly-Hansen, Merryl Rothaus,and More!

"Trafficking Innocence" by Mimi Farrelly-Hansen

"Talisman" by Merryl Rothaus

by Laura Marshall
by Tom Cannon
by J. Lyndon

More Matchboxes!

by Jill Powers

by Jill Powers

With the Small Resources=Big Possibilities Art Auction Gala less than a week away we are bursting at the seems with matchbox art from over 100 artists! This week the blog will be dedicated to showing off that work. We hope you enjoy seeing the creativity and thoughtfulness of so many artists… and of course we hope you join us Saturday night to see the work in person!

by Haruna Tsuchiya

by Teresa Smith

by Linda Gleitz

Meet Matchbox Artist Ira Fail

Ira Fail is a painter and graphic artist living in Boulder, CO. See more of work here:

Purchase your tickets to the Small Resources=Big Possibilities Art Auction here: TICKETS!