A Window Between Worlds’ Founder Cathy Salser

Today the Venice Paparazzi spotlight shines on A Window Between Worlds’ Founder Cathy Salser

Tell us about the work your organization does and the programs you run?

A Window Between Worlds uses art workshops to help people safely process and cope with trauma and violence they have experienced. To work with thousands of participants across the country, we train and support the staff already working at over 200 partnering organizations to use our healing arts curriculum with their clients. Our participants have been affected by domestic violence, sexual assault, homelessness, incarceration, human trafficking, addiction, community violence and many other forms of trauma.

How did the organization start? Where did the idea or inspiration come from?

In the summer of 1991 I travelled across the country, stopping along the way to create art with women living in domestic violence shelters.  Art had always provided a safe outlet for me, and my goal was to create a circle of safety for these women where they could express themselves in a new way and be supported on their path towards healing.  When I returned to Los Angeles I partnered with the domestic violence agency Sojourn to hold weekly workshops.  Soon after we began training staff at other agencies to facilitate workshops and have evolved into a network of over 700 facilitators at agencies across the country.

Photo courtesy of awbw.org

How did you come up with the name of your nonprofit?

Creating art is literally a window between worlds, a way to look between the past trauma and the hope of the future.

How long have you been in business, and how has your organization changed or grown over time?

AWBW has been around for over 27 years. We began by partnering with domestic violence shelters in the Los Angeles area.  As we have grown, it has become clear that our peer-based, trauma-informed program is invaluable in addressing the needs of both adults and children affected by a variety of types of trauma. Our curriculum is now used in multiple settings, including shelters, schools, prisons, community outreach centers, and more, across the country.

What would you say is the best thing about your organization?

The community we’ve built through partnering with other organizations is incredible to witness.  Our facilitators adapt and innovate our curriculum to fit what their participants really need.  Getting to interconnect them with each other so they can learn from each others’ innovations is powerful.  And all of this would not be possible without our extremely talented and dedicated staff.  They rock!

What has been your greatest reward of running your nonprofit?

Witnessing the “impossible” become possible.  By inviting a space to listen deeply to our truths, the art often becomes a catalyst for breakthroughs.  Dreams and wishes can become tangible, often for the first time.

What have been your biggest challenges?

As we grow our partnerships and reach more participants in a broad spectrum of settings, we have transitioned from a small to medium-sized organization.  Developing new systems, processes and streams of income to support and sustain this growth has proved challenging.  I grew up pretty afraid of conflict, so it’s not easy for me to navigate creating safety around mistakes, conflicts and problems.  As the organization grew, that gap became problematic.  I am becoming more able to experience challenges and conflict as opportunities, but I think it will be a lifelong learning journey.  I have to keep practicing and am grateful for each opportunity.

What do you personally spend most of your time on?

Interesting question…my first thought was “meetings!” (LOL).  But looking more deeply, I realize most of my time is focused on building tools and systems to honor each person’s ability to make a difference, in their own way.  This goes for our facilitators who are the experts of their own environment adapting the art workshops to serve most powerfully in their context, be it shelter, prison, hospital, school etc.  Likewise, with each staff member, donor, volunteer and advisor — each unique in bringing their passion, skills and teamwork to AWBW’s mission. Whether I’m working on a donor development campaign or meeting with the program team to strategize the facilitator database and tech tools, I see it as a creative process of amplifying and synergizing the unique difference we each can make.

Photo courtesy of AWBW.org

What are your goals for the next three to five years?

We are constantly working to strengthen our network of partnering organizations, providing better and more in-depth support for our art workshop facilitators. We are also looking to further develop our fundraising initiatives to achieve long-term sustainability.  To accomplish these goals, we are working to create a more efficient, effective, diverse and inclusive working environment.

What support do you need?  How can one help your organization?

To help AWBW, you can spread the word about us so more people are aware of the work we are doing and how art can help transform lives.  We also have volunteer opportunities (awbw.org/volunteer) and appreciate gifts of any size (awbw.org/donate).  And something new: During the year ahead I’m piloting a series of hands-on workshops for donors.  If you have a group of friends you think might like to experience and support AWBW, please reach out. Perhaps you can be one of the hosts in this 2019 series.

What advice would you give someone starting their own non profit?

Ask for help. Be open about mistakes. Keep learning.

Photo courtesy of AWBW.org



Define success:

This is my personal, at home, parent-of-8-and-11-year-old-boys, definition: “Kindness, teamwork and growing.”   These words are like our touchstones we aspire to practice, especially in the tough moments.  “Hmmmm… let’s see… How can we practice kindness, or teamwork, or growing right now…(when you want to torture your brother)?”

Photo courtesy of AWBW.org

List 1-2 things on your bucket list, and 1-2 things on your Venice bucket list.
  • Learn to cook my mom’s pot roast
  • Take my boys to Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams
Favorite affirmation, mantra, or quote?

“Pain that is not transformed is transmitted.  AWBW enabled me to transform my pain by releasing it into my art.”  This is a quote from one of our participants from 2010.  We came across it this week and I fell in love.  It so beautifully says why we do what we do at AWBW.

Favorite book, band or movie?

Andra Day — Rise Up

What other causes do you support?

Just Detention International

Where do you find inspiration?

In slowing down, in silence, in space.  When I’m doing nothing, that’s when clarity strikes.  I keep blank paper around the house just to grab the ideas that come.

How do you treat yourself on your days off?

I honestly love total alone time… having the freedom to catch up on things around the house. It makes me so happy I leap around and sing.

Photo courtesy of AWBW.org

What’s one thing we can do to make the world a better place?

Develop inner awareness of when we are in the “red zone” and have some go-to practices that we can use to get back to our “green zone.”

Anything else you want to share about yourself to the world? Fun facts or accomplishments.

Okay, this is silly but I LOVE the corn chip smell of dog paws.  I also love math and I love that my 11 year old can already crush me doing math problems in his head. I need a piece of paper.


Describe Venice:

A place of visions, community action, strong opinions, problems and solutions, people marching to their own drummer, strong passions, amazing, setting sun.

Describe your perfect day in Venice:

Morning on the beach, dogs playing in surf before police might ticket, Rose Café, art-making circle seeding visions and wishes, walking Abbot Kinney to browse treasures, find places I’ve never been, Greenleaf salad and cocktails.

What is your craziest or fondest Venice experience?

The magic of walking on the beach and chance encounters.  That is where I met my husband. When we got married we put beach stones in our rings.

Photo courtesy of AWBW.org

Favorite Venice go-to spots?

The Rose Cafe, the Canals, the Beach

Who should Venice Paparazzi cast the spotlight on next?

William Attaway

Any shoutouts or thank you’s?

Thank you Venice Paparazzi for your incredible generosity and talent, shooting AWBW’s events. You are incredible!  And to the whole Venice community for supporting AWBW here since 1993!  Especially our immediate neighbors who not only put up with all of our workshop sounds and warm-ups but actively supported us.  Thank you to our Councilmember Bonin who generously gave a new “home” to our trainings when we needed more space.  And special thanks to AWBW’s incredible staff who make AWBW’s window of safety a living, breathing presence day by day through their caring actions and courageous hearts.

A Window Between Worlds’ Art in the Afternoon. Photo by VenicePaparazzi.com.


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