Connecting Yoga, Art, and Restorative Justice

Dr. Valerie Rucker-Bussie, founder of Priority One Wellness, and Laylaa Randera and Donna Jonte, Community Engagement staff at The Phillips Collection, on the inaugural POW Yoga + Arts program at Phillips@THEARC.

“Priority One Wellness Restorative Justice Yoga + Arts” started in January 2023 as an after-school program for seventh and eighth graders at Washington School for Girls, one of the resident partners at THEARC. At the end of the four-week pilot, when the students expressed how much joy they found in yoga, art, and community, we gladly extended the weekly program through the end of the school year.

Inspired by restorative justice principles: words to live by

Born out of a conversation during Phillips@THEARC’s Chalk Walk in summer 2022, the program was shaped by Dr. Valerie Rucker-Bussie, PT, DPT, NCS, founder of Priority One Wellness (POW). After seeing the Phillips’s light-filled workshop at THEARC, Dr. Val envisioned it as a healing and restorative space, and contemplated a collaboration with the Phillips. Thanks to Dr. Val, POW Yoga + Arts grew from idea to reality, connecting two organizations deeply committed to community engagement through wellness.

Dr. Val designed the pilot program using restorative justice principles such as relationship, respect, responsibility, repair, reintegration, and truthful speaking. She consulted with the DC Peace Team, which provides restorative justice trainings to the public, to come up with these principles. As a certified yoga instructor, Dr. Val paired yoga yamas with restorative justice topics, creating the themes for the classes. The weekly sessions consisted of yoga, conversation, and art-making as a way to promote self-care and creative expression in the context of community wellness. Dr. Val hypothesized that combining restorative justice topics with physical and artistic expression could provide tools for the community to use in collective healing.

Dr. Val leading Shavasana, a restorative resting pose

The Phillips Collection introduced the girls to mindful looking as we investigated artworks, artistic methods, and materials that align with yoga and restorative justice principles. We chose artists of color, most with connections to DC, exploring Simone Leigh’s sculpture, Sam Gilliam’s paintings, David Driskell’s prints, and Dee Dwyer’s photographs on view at Phillips@THEARC.

We began each session by sharing how we were feeling, matching our emotions to a line, shape, color, or idea we found in an image from the museum’s permanent collection. To start this conversation, we used The Philips Art Cards, a set of 54 cards of artworks from the collection, developed by our Education Department. This discussion led to the topic of the day—a restorative justice principle that connected to a yoga pose and an art experience.  Early in the pilot phase, we wanted to emphasize that community building and positive change depend on flexibility and open-heartedness, curiosity, reflection, and thoughtful action. We thought about these habits of mind in relation to making art and practicing yoga.

Simone Leigh, No Face (Crown Heights), 2018

Simone Leigh, No Face (Crown Heights), 2018, Terracotta, graphite ink, salt-fired porcelain, and epoxy 20 x 8 in., The Phillips Collection, Director’s Discretionary Fund, 2019

For example, to strengthen our own sense of community, we played a collaborative sculpture game in response to Simone Leigh’s No Face (Crown Heights). First we looked at an image of the ceramic sculpture, sharing our observations, questions, and thoughts. With air-dry clay, we each created a small sculpture that shared a characteristic with Leigh’s artwork. We passed our sculpture to a classmate, and with another piece of clay, added a small piece that represented part of our identity. We continued passing and adding until the sculpture returned to its starting place, touched by all participants in different ways, transformed through collaboration. Then we put the sculptures together to make a whole.

Arranging the collaborative-clay sculptures

The girls embraced this metaphor and definition of community—each student is unique and also an essential part of the whole. This was evident especially in the Shavasana at the end of each yoga practice, our mats forming a circle.

Sam Gilliam, "Red Petals" American, 1967, Acrylic on canvas, 88 x 93 in., Acquired 1967.

Sam Gilliam, Red Petals, 1967, Acrylic on canvas, 88 x 93 in., The Phillips Collection, Acquired 1967

To understand how restorative justice, like the creative process, depends not only on community support, but also on individuals embracing curiosity, persistence, and innovation, the next week we looked at Sam Gilliam’s painting Red Petals. Gilliam, with startling originality, poured thinned acrylic on unprimed canvas, folding and unfolding it to create unexpected marks in a field of saturated color. He said that his process was “a sort of accident, a part that I controlled, and then a part I didn’t control, a part I set into motion.”

Playing with liquid watercolor: balancing intention and improvisation

We experimented with liquid watercolor on wet paper, letting the paint flow in interesting paths as well as guiding it intentionally. We added a touch of coarse salt to the pools of color, surprised and delighted by the starbursts that suddenly appeared. To correspond with Gilliam’s improvisation, persistence, and intentionality, we practiced the Tree Pose. We swayed, finding flexibility, letting go of the idea of perfection, maybe falling, laughing, regaining balance, or starting over.

On the final day, the girls reflected on their experiences in POW Yoga + Arts:

“One thing I realized in this club is that whenever we do yoga, it really takes your stress away.”

“I love how the instructors treated us, how loving and caring they are.”

“This club helps me calm down my nerves and release stress. I feel like I’m pouring out how artistic I can be and how I really feel into my art.”

Celebrating community: offering affirmations to self and others

Our objectives were met—the girls felt welcomed, safe, and valued during each session, and they discovered tools for resolving conflict in themselves and their communities. We all embraced Dr. Val’s advice: “Healing begins with empowerment, education, and resources.”

We look forward to another session when we can continue to explore our connections to yoga, art, and community!

Capturing the Perfect iPhone Photograph

Did you know your iPhone is capable of taking professional quality photos? Here are some settings and techniques that will instantly improve your iPhone photos. We hope you’ll put your photo skills to the test with our upcoming July 1-31 Frank Stewart-inspired Photo-a-Day challenge. Follow @phillipscollection and share your results with us using #PhillipsPhotoChallenge!


Turn on the Grid
Grid lines are key for photo composition. They help you level the horizon, center the subject, and balance your photos.

Mirror Front Camera for Better Selfies
While you’re in settings, switch on “Mirror Front Camera” so your selfies will turn out how they appear when you press the shutter (and aren’t flipped).

Turn on “Grid” and “Mirror Front Camera” in your camera settings

Set the Focus
Look for interesting colors, textures, and patterns in your subject and shoot them up close. To set the focus on your subject, simply frame your shot, then tap the screen where you want the camera to focus. A yellow box will appear to indicate the focus area.

Use the yellow square to help focus your image

Adjust the Exposure
After you tap the screen to set the focus, you’ll see a yellow box and a sun. Hold your finger on the sun and drag up for more light to make your image brighter. Drag the sun down for less light to make your photograph darker.

Slide the sun icon up and down to change the exposure

Get Closer Instead of Zooming In
Zooming in degrades the quality of your photograph. If you want more of the subject in the photo, take a few steps closer. Or take the full scene and then crop your image later.

Use the Leveling Tool (+) for Overhead Shots
Trying to take a photo of your picturesque meal? Go for a bird’s eye view with an overhead shot. When you hold your phone above your subject, two plus signs (one yellow, one white) will appear on your screen. When the two + line up and turn into one yellow +, your camera is level.

Use the leveling tool to straighten your shot

Use Portrait Mode for Portraits
Portrait mode has features to add depth to your photos. You can add more focus to your subject by blurring the background. To use Portrait Mode, open your camera and swipe over to “Portrait.” Tip: make sure you’re standing far enough away from the subject (the screen will tell you) and tap the screen where you want it to focus.

The f-stop decides how much the background is blurred in a Portrait Mode shot. To do this, go to Camera > Portrait Mode > “f” in the top right corner of your screen. From there you can slide left and right to find the right amount of blur you want. Tip: You can also change this after you take the photo!

In Portrait Mode, f-stop turned all the way up on the left has a sharp background, compared to the blurry background in the right where f-stop is turned all the way down

Use the Timer Mode for Steady Shots
Sometimes using your thumb to tap the shutter button can make the camera shake at just the moment you’re taking the picture. In addition to using the timer mode for a no-hands selfie, you can use it for any shot to keep both hands on the phone when the shutter opens. Check the top of your camera screen for the timer icon!

0.5x vs 1.0x vs 2x
To use the widest lens, tap 0.5 (at the bottom of your photo screen). Tap 1.0x if you want to capture a scene that has a moderately wide field of view. And if your phone has it, 2x is your telephoto lens.

The 1x lens on the top shows a tighter crop than the 0.5x lens on the bottom


Shift Your Perspective
Try taking photos from outside your regular standing or sitting position. You can shoot your subject from up high or down low. Taking a photo from a slightly higher position is flattering for your subjects. Shooting from a lower angle is great for a few reasons: It makes your photo look intriguing by showing a unusual perspective. If you’re outside, it also shows your subject with nothing but sky in the background, which makes your subject stand out. It can also show interesting details in the foreground.

Try a low angle to capture foreground details

Create Depth
Use leading lines in your composition like roads, paths, railway tracks, rivers, and fences. At the beach, you can use the water’s edge or ripples in the sand. Compose your photo so the lines lead from the foreground into the distance. This draws the viewer into the scene.

Use leading lines in your composition to create depth


Editing your Photo
In addition to editing apps than can help clean up your photos and adjust the lighting, you can do plenty with the tools already on your phone. From the photo, click “Edit” in the top right corner and you’ll see a menu in the bottom. Play around with the magic wand and other features to get comfortable with what editing options you have. Below the photo you’ll see options like “Studio Light,” “Contour Light,” “Stage Light,” and more that will add professional studio light effects and make any photo look professional quality!

Straighten the Horizon
A straight horizon is key to a good composition. If you don’t quite get it as straight as you want it in the moment, you can open your photo and click edit. Then select the crop tool at the bottom and the first option is “straighten.” Slide your finger left and right to rotate the image just how you want.

Washington School for Girls Explore Self-Expression through Studio-Portraiture

Education Assistant Davinna Barkers-Woode used Frank Stewart’s work as inspiration to develop a studio portraiture workshop for the Washington School for Girls as part of the Focal Point: Shifting Perspectives through Photography student exhibition (on view through September 10).

Frank Stewart, Endangered Species: David Hammons (detail), 1981 (printed 2021), Gelatin silver print, 19 15/16 x 16 in., Philadelphia Museum of Art, PA, Purchased with the Lynne and Harold Honickman Fund for Photography, 2021

Last summer, I saw 7th and 8th-grade students from the Washington School for Girls blossom into their authentic selves during our time working together. This spring, meeting a new class of 6th graders reaffirmed the fulfillment I derive from my work in the Phillips’s Education Department. This project holds a special place in my heart for two reasons: the opportunity to dive deeper into Frank Stewart’s photographic process and the opportunity to foster the students’ self-expression by providing them with a way to capture themselves in this present moment forever. With these two things in mind, I developed a project that would give the students a foundational understanding of essential compositional elements in photography, such as perspective and viewpoint. Inspired by Frank Stewart’s masterful utilization of these elements to enhance the narratives of his travels and encounters, I sought to convey their significance to the students. For instance, in Endangered Species: David Hammons, Stewart skillfully employs an eye-level viewpoint to position the viewer directly in front of the model, fostering an intense and intimate encounter.

Through this example, the students learned how viewpoint plays a pivotal role in situating the audience in relation to the subject, influencing their perception and emotional connection. Following this, students were encouraged to experiment with different viewpoints, allowing them to discover the power of perspective in their image-making.

8th grade students experimenting with viewpoint using their iPhones

Mirrors and reflective surfaces are another unique component of Stewart’s artwork. These elements serve as conduits for expanding the perspectives within his photos, infusing them with depth and three-dimensionality.

Left: Frank Stewart, Self-portrait, Dominican Republic, 1986, Gelatin silver print, 16 x 20 in., Collection of the artist; Right: Frank Stewart, Ahmad Jamal, 2013, Inkjet print, 30 x 20 in., Collection of Sing Lathan and Bining Taylor

Drawing inspiration from this aspect, students were provided with mirrors and invited to play with perspective and explore the captivating possibilities of reflective surfaces. Through this activity, students honed their technical skills and deepened their understanding of how to add depth and space to a two-dimensional photograph.

6th Grade Maya S. Untitled

6th Grade Students being photographed

Most importantly, students reflected on self-expression and identified how they presented themselves to the world. Photographs of studio portraits in the Phillips’s permanent collection were incorporated into our lesson to facilitate this exploration. Students were invited to look closely at the facial expressions, poses, and even outfits of the individuals depicted, prompting them to question and interpret visual cues of their personalities. By showcasing how others utilize studio portraiture for self-expression, we dove into a thought-provoking conversation about how the students could authentically convey their unique personalities through their photographs. To further support this endeavor, Johnnies Flowers, a flower shop in DC, partnered with us and provided the 8th-grade students with flowers to create individualized bouquets that represented their personalities. 6th and 7th graders brought personal items that encapsulated their identities, facilitating a profound connection between their inner selves and the visual representations they aimed to create.

Left: 6th Grade Kaylee G., Feeling Myself; Right: 8th Grade Catherine J., My Season has Come to Bloom

With each click of the camera shutter, the students expanded their understanding of the transformative power of perspective and viewpoint. They realized that these choices could shape the narrative of their images, inviting viewers to experience the world through their eyes. They discovered the ability to infuse their photographs with depth and multidimensionality through reflective surfaces. Yet, this project was about more than technical proficiency or aesthetic prowess. It encouraged the students to embark on a journey of self-reflection and self-definition, capturing moments that authentically expressed their individuality and personal narratives.

8th grade students waiting to take their photos with their bouquets

Group photo of 6th grade students