Local Artist Launches 'Project Grief,' Helps Others Survive Loss with Art 

click to enlarge projectgriefcomp.jpg

Courtesy Danica Thurber

The first seeds of Project Grief were planted 16 years ago, when then 12-year-old Danica Thurber's father died suddenly of a heart attack. Thurber said she buried her grief for years afterward, only beginning to confront it in high school.

"I think I had to dig in pretty deep for content matter because of having to do so many pieces [of art at my art-focused high school], so I started to delve into the tougher subjects in my life, and at that point my grief wasn't really expressed, it was definitely repressed at that time," she said. "And so I noticed that I was uncomfortable in expressing the depth of my grief, so I kind of edited it. Like, if it was a dark matter I would put an object of light or hope in it to kind of counteract how bad it was."

It was only after breaking down "mentally, emotionally, spiritually [and] physically" in college that Thurber felt forced her to change her behavior. She found an outlet for her feelings in art, and came to see creation as a tool for recovery.

click to enlarge Danica Thurber is the artist behind Project Grief. - COURTESY DANICA THURBER
  • Courtesy Danica Thurber
  • Danica Thurber is the artist behind Project Grief.
During that time she produced a range of work, including the powerful self-portrait "Being Remade," a headshot of her with closed eyes, her face dotted with colorful gobs of dried paint from her palette. When Thurber, then in college, expressed frustration with the messiness of working through her grief, her then-mentor counselled her to "make peace with the process," which she called "beautiful."

"I was like, 'Ooh, that's good. I'm going to make art about that,'" Thurber said with a laugh.

At the urging of her husband and brother, Thurber earned her Therapeutic Art Life Coach certification through Transformation Academy and compiled the lessons she'd learned into an online course called Project Grief, which will officially launch Wednesday, May 1. The course includes 10 projects, each of which addresses a different facet of grieving and results in a finished art piece. It's subscription-based and costs $20 per month, letting people take their time with each project. Thurber plans to open Project Grief for three enrollment periods this year, the first in May, the second in late summer and the third in early winter.

click to enlarge This painting is one of the sample projects Thurber created for Project Grief. - COURTESY DANICA THURBER
  • Courtesy Danica Thurber
  • This painting is one of the sample projects Thurber created for Project Grief.
"Project Grief has a whole bunch of pre-work that kind of orients you to the mindset change that we're doing before the lessons. The pre-work talks about the transformation we're going for, which is from being a grief victim to being a grief artist," she said. "A grief victim is someone that lets grief happen to them. It's where I was—grief was the person who was controlling my life, not me, and I was letting grief make decisions and dictate relationships. And being a grief artist is what we're headed towards. It's someone who doesn't deny their grief but takes it and uses it to transform their life."

Would-be grief artists can dip their toes into the process with a free mini-course on the Project Grief website, projectgrief.org, or try an example exercise at the Indigo Art Festival Saturday-Sunday, May 4-5, in Meridian's Storey Park. Thurber will be there to give instructions, sell her work and sign people up for Project Grief, which she views as a way of giving back.

"You've got to find your healing first, and then turn around and help others," she said.
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