In 1954, Joan Erikson, wife of Riggs staff member Erik Erikson, introduced a revolutionary Activities Program based on the principle that “…art, crafts, drama, intellectual pursuits, involvement in the nursery school or greenhouse program are productive for personal growth and development in any individual. These activities … promote change in a positive direction, support competence, and enhance the dignity and identity of the person involved.”
Working in an environment deliberately separated from the intensive treatment atmosphere, patients take up the role of student as they participate in a variety of artistic and intellectual endeavors in the Activities Program. Artisans and teachers—specialists in their fields, and not trained as clinicians—work with individuals and groups, opening possibilities for creative expression and the use of new skills.
Trained professionals offer individual instruction and workshops in fiber arts, woodworking, ceramics, and visual arts in a dedicated studio space on Main Street, Stockbridge. Called “The Lavender Door,” the historic building is located beyond the main campus of Riggs, in the center of Stockbridge.
Riggs Theatre 37
A theatre program is offered under the direction of Kevin Coleman, who also serves at the director of education at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Massachusetts. The program includes classes, in-house productions, and public performances that take place in the intimate, 75-seat theatre, located on the second floor of the Lavender Door. Patients are provided with an enjoyable, in-depth experience of the actor’s craft: movement, voice training, and exploration of written text. Two main productions are staged each year, which are also open to outside actors and the public. The atmosphere is supportive, playful, and exciting, and previous acting experience is not required. Recent productions include Peter Barnes’ Red Noses, Bertolt Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle, and William Gibson’s The Butterfingers Angel.
Patients are encouraged to dig in and enjoy caring for plants in a greenhouse located on the Stockbridge campus. Space is available throughout the year for private indoor gardens, while outdoor areas are designated for summer gardening. Patients learn how to start and care for plants, and how new plants are propagated. There is a wide range of plants, from shrubs and herbs to cacti and flowers.
The Austen Riggs Nursery School, fosters positive early learning experiences for local children, ages 2.9 years to kindergarten. In 1955 Joan Erikson described the motivation for establishing a nursery school within a psychiatric setting as a way for patients to experience childhood as observers and as participants. Patients work as teachers’ aides under the supervision of the school's director.