Katya Simonsen, a Lower Cape May Regional High School senior, does art well enough that she can sell her custom pieces, but she says the process of making art also can serve as a stress or anxiety reducer.

Art is Therapy is the subject that Simonsen discussed as as one of five student speakers during the TEDxCapeMay event Sunday at the Paul Schmidtchen Theater inside Lower Cape May Regional High School in Cape May.

TED is a nonprofit, nonpartisan foundation that makes great ideas accessible and sparks conversation. TEDx allows for local, self-organized events that brings people together to share a TED-like experience.

Simonsen, 17, of Cape May, said her father ignited her interest in art.

“He actually went to college for art for a couple of years before he changed his major. We always had his paintings in our house. I think that’s where I really got started,” Simonsen said. “When I was little (8 years old), we used to paint together. He showed me how.”

When creating something to sell, Simonsen’s favorite medium is acrylic paint, but she will use anything when doing art therapy for herself, colored pencils, crayons, oils or pastels.

Simonsen was introduced to art therapy last year.

“It’s a whole different side of art. It’s not about perfection or craftsmanship. It’s more about letting your feelings out,” Simonsen said. “Art doesn’t mean beating yourself up over trying to perfect a painting. Sometimes, it’s just letting your emotions out onto a piece of paper or describing how you feel.”

This is the seventh time TEDxCapeMay has been held. This TEDx event was the biggest one ever. The number of student speakers increased from the usual one to five, said T.J. Belasco, a Lower Township High School English teacher and one of the student organizers for the program.

Adult speakers included Dee Wallace, the mother from Steven Spielberg’s “ET: The Extra-Terrestrial” and James Mtume, the songwriter and producer of the No. 1 black singles chart hit from 1983, titled “Juicy Fruit,” which has been prominently sampled by R&B and hip-hop artists throughout the years.

This year’s theme was “Common Ground.” Speakers talked in front of a crowd of educators, parents, students, community people and adults from outside the area, who are interested in the subjects being discussed.

The student speakers talked anywhere between 5 and 10 minutes each. All of the talks should be available to watch on YouTube at a later date.

Sofia Graziano, 17, a senior at Absegami High School in Galloway Township, was another student speaker, who talked at this event.

Graziano’s topic was “Common Ground in STEM,” which stands for science, technology, engineering and math.

Graziano, a Galloway Township resident, talked about the importance of integrating STEM into students’ lives starting from a very young age.

“Whether it be hands-on experiments or taking children to museums, it’s very important to get students involved, so that they nurture that love for STEM as they grow up,” Graziano said.

Last year, Graziano started a STEM outreach program.

It creates different experiments, brings them to local elementary schools, the high school and the Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City and puts on free demonstrations for them, so that children can get involved.

“I hope that educators and parents realize it’s possible at very cost and with very little effort to integrate STEM into childrens’ lives, like I have, with low-cost materials and experiments you can find on Google and that it is very influential.”

This is a big week in Graziano’s life.

After Graziano’s TEDxCapeMay talk Sunday, she will be flying out to Dallas later in the week.

The national Back To Space organization selected Graziano as a member of its student ambassador group.

She will attend a gala event Friday at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas where she will meet astronauts and partake in the filming of a documentary. The documentary crew will be coming to Absegami later in the academic year to film.

Staff Writer

Twenty years as a staff writer in the features department, specializing in entertainment and the arts at The Press of Atlantic City.

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