Inspired by her own lived experiences with a sibling suffering from drug addiction, Ashley Rucker founded TherapART, a healing through movement initiative in NYC.

By Sonia Kovacevic.

You rarely meet someone that has such an immense impact on you so quickly. When Ashley Rucker walks into the room, you feel it. It’s not just her effortless style, envious bold hair, rotating bright nail art, or sis girl attitude. Rather, Rucker’s energy is infectiously expansive. While she boasts confidence, Rucker has been on a long journey of self-discovery and healing.

“I was seriously in so much pain. I wasn’t going to do anything crazy by any means, but I was at that point,” says Rucker, in front of a crowd, huddled together on Wednesday evening at Ludlow House for the launch of TherapART. The six-minute film that aired was made with no budget, together with two friends Rucker had met at the Lot-Radio block party on the 4 July 2017. Director Madeline Kelly and Creative Director Elly McGaw, believed in her vision for TherapART and decided to hustle against all the odds to tell a story that needed to be heard.

As the film preview ended, leaving the room moved, and in awe, Rucker took us back to where it all began. With a brother who was suffering from a perpetual cycle of severe drug addiction and eventually incarcerated, Rucker was trying to come to terms with the pain. “I just wasn’t ok with who I was. And I just started dancing one day,” she shares, but not in that conventional kind of way. She expresses just jerking her body, moving, and feeling a sense of release. She continued to get lost in this trance-like state and documenting her journey. “I kept it a secret for so long. I wasn’t ready to be free,” Rucker reminisces.

Filmed and edited by Lucian Clifforth

During her rock bottom, trying to deal with the deep-rooted trauma endured by her family, Rucker was reading Keith Haring’s journals. “He talks about not living in the same moment twice. And I just thought, “Fuck. I just want to save my brother’s life.” Following Haring’s life up until he passed away from aids, she truly felt she had lost a best friend. It was at this moment that she knew she wanted to create something meaningful.

As her healing evolved through movement, as did the idea for TherapART. “It’s taken three years of just healing. And my brother got out of jail just three months ago.” She continues, “I wasn’t okay with releasing this until everyone was healed.”

Having worked as an art and movement facilitator with Young New Yorkers, a program that diverts youth from incarceration to art therapy initiatives, Rucker has witnessed first hand the benefits of art and the importance of cultivating a community. She comments, “They just need someone to love them. They just want to be seen. And we live in a world today that we just want to be seen.” TherpapART was born out of this essence; to provide these safe spaces and encourage people to move and work through past pain and trauma. As an advocate for the often-overlooked survivor stories, Rucker conceptualized TherapART to drive a positive conversation about art therapy. Inherent in its offering is the ‘giveback purpose’, a core value that encourages participation in local initiatives to create a circular feedback loop between program members, donors, and the wider community.

“Being on a dance floor is a unifying experience. It’s a place where, no matter who you are, or what you’ve been through… you can completely let go of all of life’s shit and connect with people. And for that one moment, we’re all equal. We’re expressing ourselves freely, without judgement. We can physically transform the ugly parts of our lives into something beautiful. That is how creativity works. It’s healing.”

“I really just want to help people. I know that’s what I’m here to help people do.” And before the room hustles up into cheers and a two-hour disco boogie led by Rucker and her dad, she gracefully ends with “Is everyone ready to help? Because we have some work to do!”

Content courtesy of TherapART