Leah Gipson is an interdisciplinary artist whose practice is informed by her identities as an activist and professional art therapist. Her understanding of art therapy is rooted in black feminism, black church, and the use of cultural spaces for social transformation. Since 2009, she has been developing projects in Chicago’s historic west side neighborhoods to address gender, racial and economic systems of inequality. She has worked with A Long Walk Home, Inc. to co-create Girl/Friends Young Leaders Institute, a program that focuses on eliminating gender-based violence through art and youth leadership. In 2013, she initiated West Side Art Chicago, a series of collaborative participatory projects that focus on raising community critical consciousness and grassroots funding for local artists. She is currently working as a counselor at Rape Victim Advocates in the Austin Chicago neighborhood.
Leah is an instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the Department of Art Therapy and has taught the following graduate courses: Counseling Techniques, Assessment and Evaluation, Fieldwork II, and Cultural Dimensions in Art Therapy. She is currently a student at McCormick Theological Seminary earning a Master of Theological Studies degree. Her research interests and pedagogical influences are based in historical traditions of African American spiritual and community leadership from the southern region of the United States. Among her inspirations are her father, a C.O.G.I.C. pastor and former city commissioner, and her mother, a retired primary school educator and church mother. Before learning about Sojourner Truth, Alice Walker, Delores Williams, and other instrumental black feminists and womanists, her encounters in kitchens, churches, and libraries shaped early experiences of black community as sanctuary. In 2008, Leah moved to Chicago from Panama City, Florida to integrate a visual arts practice of working through issues of gender and race into a social and professional practice known as art therapy.
In addition to her involvement with anti-gender-based violence, she has worked to assist individuals to eliminate the risk of HIV infection and reduce potential harms of substance use. She has also worked with women survivors of incarceration, women experiencing homelessness, and individuals receiving psychiatric and residential services.