Smith Center History



Barbara Smith Coleman

Barbara Smith Coleman

Visionary, artist, and founder of Smith Farm Center

Washington, DC artist Barbara Smith Coleman founded the organization, originally known as Smith Farm Center for Healing and the Arts, in 1996 after a life-transforming experience at a residential program for people living with cancer in Bristol, England. That experience led Barbara to consult with Michael Lerner, PhD, of Commonweal, founder of a California-based program whose retreats focus on the mental and spiritual effects of cancer. The Commonweal Cancer Help Program is well known through the Bill Moyers PBS special, “Healing and the Mind.”  It became Barbara Smith Coleman’s life mission to offer similar programs in the nation’s capital and to offer the healing powers of art and creativity to people facing life-threatening illness, their caregivers, and medical professionals.

In September 2001, Ms. Coleman donated her partial ownership of a two-story building at 1632 U Street, NW in Washington, DC with the organization purchasing the remaining interest. This space is the permanent site for offices and on-site programs as well as a newly expanded art gallery dedicated to the healing power of the arts. Barbara Smith Coleman passed away in 2003 at the age of 71, but her philosophy, work, and spirit live on.

Since early 2010, Smith Center’s U Street space has been undergoing a large-scale renovation and expansion to enable us to serve more people with our programs and events. The new space will open this September, with 2,000 square feet of additional program space including a state-of-the-art teaching kitchen, a large multi-purpose room for programs and workshops, and a courtyard. Learn more about our new space.

I hope Smith Farm will maintain a deep respect for people and that we make no one feel more alone because of our actions or attitudes. Truth — we tell the truth as best we are able to perceive it. We deliver what we promise and promise only what can be delivered. We are considerate and tolerant. We dream. We care for our gifts as a sacred trust and spend them more carefully than we would our own. We are ready for a change. We delight in a challenge. We laugh. We work to maintain our personal lives in a state of grace, so that this grace will be available to those in need of our service.”

— From a journal entry by Barbara Smith Coleman

Read more from the Journal of Barbara Smith Coleman

Shanti Norris

Shanti Norris – Co-Founder & Former Executive Director

Ms. Norris served as Executive Director of Smith Center for Healing and the Arts from 1996 – 2017. She initiated the Smith Center hospital Artist-in-Residence program and Healing Arts Gallery. She ran the weeklong retreats for people with cancer, and oversaw new initiatives, including the Faith-based Community Navigation project at Smith Center. Former Vice President of Kent Homeopathic Associates, she has an extensive background in complementary medicine and mind-body approaches to healing. She has taught meditation, yoga philosophy and stress reduction for over 35 years and underwent a formal ten-year mentorship with a renowned yoga master. She is a three-term member of CARRA, the patient advocacy program at the National Cancer Institute and a graduate of Project LEAD from the National Breast Cancer Coalition. She is a graduate of the Georgetown University Non-profit Leadership certificate course and the James P. Shannon Leadership Institute in Minneapolis/St Paul. She is a former board member of the Society for the Arts in Healthcare and Chaired their Annual Conference in 2004. She is a founding board member of The Art Connection in the Capital Region and a founding member of Arts in Healthcare Advocates (AHA.) She is a frequent speaker on the healing power of the arts. Her formal art training began at New York University and The Cooper Union in New York City and includes running the fine art studio of artist Peter Max. She is a member of ArtTable, the mother of three adult children, and is a painter and sculptor.

Read Shanti’s Farewell Letter

Michael Lerner

Michael Lerner – Co-Founder & Board Emeritus

Michael Lerner, PhD is President-Emeritus, Senior Advisor, and co-founder of Smith Center for Healing and the Arts and of Commonweal, a health and environmental research institute in Bolinas, California. He is also co-founder of a dozen major initiatives including the Cancer Help Program, Health Care Without Harm, the Collaborative on Health and the Environment and The New School at Commonweal. He is the recipient of a MacArthur Prize Fellowship and the author of “Choices in Healing: Integrating the Best of Conventional and Complementary Cancer Therapies.” He has co-led 170 week-long Cancer Help Programs at Commonweal and Smith over the past 25 years.

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