Sarah Green: “Tracy Penfield’s Pioneering Work”

Tracy Penfield is an artist, educator, advocate, and the Founder and Artistic Director of SafeArt in Chelsea, Vermont. As such her vision involves the healing and empowerment of survivors of domestic, sexual, and relationship abuse, as well as teaching individuals how to avert relationships that could be damaging. 

According to the mission and action statements from the SafeArt website:

SafeArt engages the transformative power of the arts to prevent and heal abuse and other traumas. We work to educate, inspire and heal people and their communities.

SafeArt is a progressive non-profit organization that offers individual and group healing sessions, original performances, creative workshops, residencies, and leadership training all designed to educate, to inspire and heal people and their communities. (SafeArt, Inc., 2017)

In 2016 Tracy Penfield was honored for her “pioneering work,” by the General Assembly of the Vermont Legislature. Vermont House Concurrent Resolution No. R-279 noted that “through SafeArt, Tracy Penfield, and others she has trained, empower women to create confidence in their relationship choices, based on lessons learned through storytelling, interpretive movement, and music.” (Vermont Legislature, 2016) Tracy founded the NGO SafeArt in Chelsea seventeen years ago. “SafeArt’s curriculum is customized and conducted in different settings, including secondary school and college residencies.” (Vermont Legislature, 2016) Participants in this curriculum benefit deeply. “[T]he empowerment derived from these expressive art forms is directed at enhancing a woman’s understanding of dating violence, domestic violence, and sexual assault.” (No. R-279, 2016)

The reach of Tracy’s work is local, regional, and statewide. Local SafeArt programs in Chelsea encompass Healing Arts for Women; After School Art and Summer Camps for Children; Looking Inward Speaking Out expressive arts group for adolescents in Randolph; Lending Hands in Chelsea, Tunbridge, Vershire and Washington; Sexual Assault Survivor Youth Groups available in various communities; and individual and group therapy session with Tracy in Chelsea. The regional scope of her work includes participation in the SafeArt Teen Ensemble for residents of Orange County. Statewide offerings range from school residencies by Tracy, to Adult Artist-Youth Mentorships, to performances given by the SafeArt Teen Ensemble. The scope of her work is even more broadly available. Tracy freely shares her effective techniques with other educators and facilitators in this video, “A Curriculum of Courage: Making SafeArt.”

(Penfield, 2016, August 29)

One of Tracy’s effective leadership techniques is involving young people when they are forming their ideas and values about relationships. She gives ample opportunity for people to share their stories and has excellent active listening skills. She encourages and mentors survivors to become educators in their community. Many people benefit from this approach: the survivors receive the healing benefits from sharing their stories and helping others, while listeners benefit from hearing these powerful stories and, if they’ve experienced abuse, they then know they are not alone. Moreover, all listeners become more aware of resources they can turn to in the community.

Tracy readily and frequently shares that she was in an abusive relationship for fifteen years as a young woman. In this way she is a role model for personal recovery. She demonstrates that individuals can get out of abusive relationships and rebuild their lives in their own image and go on to make a positive contribution in their communities. In his TED Talk Seth Godin said about leaders, “They have curiosity, curiosity about the people in the tribe, curiosity about outsiders. They’re asking questions. They connect people to one another.” (Raz, 2014, January 17) Tracy’s pioneering work creates connections between people and their communities.

Coming out as a survivor of trauma or violence can feel very risky in our culture, which often views victims of violence as weak. By publicly sharing their experiences, Tracy and her colleagues at SafeArt counter this stereotype, raise awareness, and give strength to individuals and the group. Derek Sivers’s short TED Talk, “How to Start a Movement,” illustrates that once one brave follower joins the leader, others feel safe to join as well. “As more people join in, it’s less risky. So those that were sitting on the fence before now have no reason not to. They won’t stand out, they won’t feel ridiculed.” (Sivers, 2010, February)  This relates to statements on the SafeArt website:

Among SafeArt’s top priorities are bringing people out of their perceived isolation and educating others who are naive about the pervasiveness of traumatic abuse. The two most-oft expressed responses to SafeArt teachings are:

“Now I know that I am not alone…. I thought I was the only one enduring this experience of abuse.”

“I had no idea my classmates/peers/students had experienced this level of abuse/these traumatizing events.” (SafeArt, Inc., 2017)

Tracy’s leadership style is a combination of Democratic and Laissez Faire. Tracy seeks out feedback from the board and staff of SafeArt, as well as from program participants, to inform the direction she will take the group. She trusts the ideas and decision-making of other members of the group. As a democratic leader, she “favors decision-making by the group.” (Lakshmi, 2008) One project she initiated years ago is a teen theater group which gives thought-provoking performances at schools and to other groups. The teen participants and their adult leader have control of the content and methods of presentation, as well as how to develop and prepare for performances. Tracy understands that “[a] free rein leader does not lead, but leaves the group entirely to itself as shown; such a leader allows maximum freedom to subordinates.” (Lakshmi, 2008)

A Curriculum of Courage: Making SafeArt is the book Tracy published in 2016 in which she shares her story and her effective multi-disciplinary approaches to working with individuals, groups, and in the classroom. Sharing her knowledge and effective tools with others in book form is another way she is an effective leader because so many people can access it anywhere. The book is widely available on in paperback and for Kindle and iBook. Tracy is currently on tour sharing the book at public readings. At the beginning of a reading I attended this winter, Tracy invited and encouraged each person to share something about themselves with the group if they’d like to. In this way she connected with each person, made them feel visible and valued, and connected them with each other. Educators and facilitators can learn from the free video made available to accompany the book (see above).

Tracys Book A Curriculum of Courage Making SafeArt

A Curriculum of Courage: Making SafeArt [Book jacket]. (2016). Retrieved from

Tracy has been doing this work in Vermont since before 2000. A few years ago Tracy stepped down from her role as Director of SafeArt, but her leadership hasn’t diminished.  In fact this organizational change was made so Tracy could spend more time presenting to and facilitating groups and doing individual work. Seth Godin said leaders “commit to the cause. They commit to the tribe. They commit to the people who are there.”  (Raz, 2014, January 17) Tracy certainly has made that commitment in a way that inspires and heals.


Lakshmi, A. K. (2008). Styles of leadership. Retrieved from

No. R-279. House concurrent resolution honoring Tracy Penfield and her pioneering therapeutic work at SafeArt. (2016) Retrieved from

Penfield, T. (2016, August 29). A curriculum of courage: Making SafeArt [Video file]. Retrieved from

Raz, G. (Host).  (2014, January 17). Seth Godin: Can ordinary people become leaders? [Radio broadcast]. In TED Radio Hour. Washington, DC: National Public Radio. Retrieved from

SafeArt, Inc. (2017). Retrieved from

Sivers, D. (2010, Feb.). Derek Sivers: How to start a movement [Video file]. Retrieved from


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APA cite in text as: (Green, 2017)

APA cite in full References as: Green, S. (2017). Tracy Penfield’s pioneering work. Vermont Psychology. Retrieved from

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Sarah Green is a nurse living in the beautiful green and white hills of Central Vermont.