Jeneen Conley-Berry is a Wayne State University employee, Ph.D. student, alumna with multiple degrees from the university and is currently active in the community as an art therapist.
She wears many hats, and does it all with joy and passion.
“Wayne State has truly been a huge part of my life; I literally grew up here,” said the native Detroiter. “Wayne State has shaped me personally, professionally and educationally for more than 25 years. I’ve stayed at WSU because of the relationships I’ve built, taking advantage of educational opportunities and the new developments that keep me in the know.”
Conley-Berry has worked at Wayne State for 14 years as the Procurement Card coordinator. She’s earned a bachelor’s, two master’s and a graduate certificate — all from Wayne State — and is currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program.
Through her studies, Conley-Berry has developed a passion for art therapy and worked at several local nonprofits, sharing her love for art therapy with others.
She’s accomplished so much at Wayne State, yet remains humble and excited to continue learning and conducting art therapy sessions in the community.
Art is for everyone
Conley-Berry believes art therapy is for everyone, regardless of their background or skill level.
“Art therapy is absolutely for everyone because it’s less intimidating,” Conley-Berry said. “It can be freeform. The goal is to use art as a voice to tell a story. It’s run by an art therapist, who serves as a guide through the journey.
“The reason the art-making process can be healing in itself is that it makes people feel as though they have accomplished something, even though it wasn't necessarily perfect. It's not about perfection. It's about their own creative expression. And that's what's important, because a lot of people say, ‘Oh, I can't draw because I'm not an artist.’ But art therapy is not focused on you being an artist.”
Conley-Berry said art therapy can be used for a variety of reasons, including reducing stress.
“The beauty of art therapy is there’s no right or wrong answer,” Conley-Berry said. “I recommend people try it out. If you're interested in art, if you're interested in psychology, I would definitely say art therapy is for you. If you’ve been feeling stressed or anxious and you need a project that's going to reduce those feelings, there are art therapy projects for relaxation purposes.
“There’s a bit of a stigma when it comes to therapy,” Conley-Berry added. “A lot of times, people think that therapy means ‘you have a mental issue.’ Not necessarily. Art therapy is for everyone and helps with channeling emotions in a healthy way. Your ability doesn’t matter; it’s about you being as creative as possible. I've had participants say, ‘I never accomplished anything in my life. I feel like I never finish anything.’ Once they completed that artwork, it was liberating for them and they felt accomplished. And that’s what brings me great joy — sharing that experience with them.”
Conley-Berry recently presented at the Rotary Club in Detroit and hosted an art therapy event at Wayne State.
“The event here was great. We did a project called Cards of Strength,” Conley-Berry said. “The participants were paired with someone to talk about their strengths and their positive attributes. And then they would create a card for each other reflecting those attributes and give each other the card they made as a keepsake. The idea was to reduce feelings of worthlessness, fear or anxiety. Everyone was freely expressing themselves in a positive light, and the other person was recognizing their personality and creating something specifically for them. It was a really good exercise.”
Conley-Berry earned a bachelor of arts in art history from Wayne State in 2002.
She later earned a master’s in education in social studies education in 2010 and a master’s in education in art education with an art therapy concentration in 2016. She earned a graduate certificate in nonprofit management in 2021.
She’s currently enrolled in the Ph.D. program in educational studies with a major in curriculum and critical social inquiry.
“What I enjoy about the doctoral program is the professors are absolutely wonderful. I cannot stress that enough,” Conley-Berry said. “They have been very supportive in my journey. They have given me ideas and supported my research. I love my classmates and the fact that we support each other every chance we get. The classes are excellent; I’ve never read so much in my life.”
Conley-Berry started in the Ph.D. program in 2019, but said she is a little behind because she took time off to earn her graduate certificate. She hopes to finish next year.
“My research is about arts integration to a social studies curriculum, using art as a way to serve the whole child and how art helps with learning in the classroom,” she said. “I’m going to use the Harlem Renaissance as an example. Art was used to tell a story by the artists, who were facing several inequalities and a lot of different challenges. My advisor has also introduced the concept of autoethnography and how it relates to my own personal experiences with art, so I plan to research that as well.”
Conley-Berry has been able to continue her education while also working full time at Wayne State Procurement Card program since 2009.
“It's basically a Wayne State credit card that’s used for small-dollar goods and services,” Conley-Berry said. “It’s used by faculty and staff members. I have really enjoyed working here and meeting people from all over the university. I love the interaction with people I’ve helped through the years. It's been a great experience.”
Passion for nonprofits
Conley-Berry has worked for several nonprofits during her time at Wayne State and feels they are a good fit for her art therapy.
She first volunteered at the Heidelberg Project and later interned at Living Arts, Neighborhood Services Organization, Developing KIDS organization and Mack Alive. She’s also worked with Brilliant Detroit and Capuchin Soup Kitchen – Rosa Parks Youth Center.
“I loved the experiences I had during my internships at several different Detroit nonprofits,” Conley-Berry said. “I was able to see the enjoyment on the children's faces when they did art. One of my biggest joys is seeing people being inspired by the art that they created and how their disposition is a little different afterward. Art therapy focuses on the process and not the product. So, it's not necessarily creating a work of art that's perfect or like a Michelangelo. It’s about the process and using art as a voice or a tool for healing.”
Conley-Berry continues to work with several nonprofits whenever she gets the chance.
“I am an art therapist/facilitator,” Conley-Berry said. “I work with Detroit nonprofits as needed when they call me to facilitate an art project with children or adults. There’s nothing like being face to face, working with children and seeing their reaction and talking with them about the art that they create.”
Conley-Berry isn’t exactly sure what the future holds and admitted she has several different goals, including starting her own nonprofit.
“I would love to gain more experience in nonprofits centered on art and education,” Conley-Berry said. “I still like to continue with working with youth and adults doing art therapy projects. I'm looking forward to finishing my degree and I really want to see where that takes me. There’s a lot of things I want to do, and Wayne State has prepared me well. I’m having a great time with it all.”