Art Slide

History of WATA

The Wisconsin Art Therapy Association (WATA), was incorporated as a nonprofit organization in Wisconsin on May 16, 1969, and was formally established June 10, 1969 (Wisconsin Secretary of State, Wisconsin Department of Financial Institutions).

Early History


Milwaukee Psychiatric Hospital circa 1966

In 1966, WATA’s later founding President Wayne Ramirez organized the first meetings of Wisconsin art therapists at Milwaukee Psychiatric Hospital.

The following year, in 1967, twice weekly meetings were occurring with the Wisconsin art therapy community, and in 1969 the gatherings became formal “Wisconsin Art Therapy Association” meetings.

Wayne Ramirez

Wayne Ramirez, circa 1970

Elinor Ulman documented these developments in the Bulletin of Art Therapy in 1969: “As far as the editors of the Bulletin of Art Therapy know, [WATA] is the first State organization of art therapists to come into existence” (p. 106).

WATA’s first constitution in 1968 provided an inclusive definition of art therapy practice, “encouraging and promoting art therapeutically, vocationally and avocationally, (i.e. diversional; behavioral modification, etc.)”  (WATA, 1968b, p. 1).

Over the past 50 years, WATA has played a defining role in the development of the art therapy profession in the United States.


Potash, J., Burnie, M., Pearson, R., & Ramirez, W. (2016). Restoring Wisconsin Art Therapy Association in Art Therapy History: Implications for Professional Definition and Inclusivity. Art Therapy, 33(2), 99–102.

Potash, S., & Ramirez, A. (2013). Broadening History, Expanding Possibilities: Contributions of Wayne Ramirez to Art Therapy. Art Therapy, 30(4), 169–176.

WATA Timeline

1967– First Meeting – A small group of therapists begin to meet with the intention to share information about art therapy and forming a professional organization.

1968May – Second Meeting (1st Formal Meeting) – Wayne Ramirez, Art Therapy supervisor at Milwaukee Psychiatric Hospital convenes a group for informal discussion about establishing an Art Therapy Association. At that meeting – “Dr. Paul G. Stein, Clinical Director, Milwaukee Psychiatric Hospital, pointed out that art is a vital part of therapy as well as an important key in diagnosis . . . he also states that information about a patient can be accessible through either an art object or in the process of its evolvement.” The group discusses the formation of an organization similar to the National Association of Music Therapy for the purpose of determining qualifications of an Art therapist. (See photo)

1968June – Third Meeting (2nd Formal Meeting) – Staff from DePaul, Milwaukee Psychiatric Hospital, St. Charles Boys Home, Milwaukee County Mental Health Center, Southern Colony, Goodwill Industries, Cardinal Stritch College, and the VA Center (Woods, WI) meet to discuss formation of an Art Therapy Association and an education curriculum for art therapy. A committee is formed to establish constitutional by-laws. UW – Milwaukee, works with this group of art therapists to create an educational program for art therapy.  It includes on-site student teaching at their facilities.

1968December – While the Wisconsin Chapter of Art Therapy works to form as a professional organization, so does the American Art Therapy Association. Edith Kramer and Elinor Ulman address the scope and philosophy of art therapy.  Their recommendation is not to limit the field to “that of an ancillary psychiatric discipline.” First set of WATA Bylaws, Objectives and Purposes created.

1969March 25 – The first OFFICIAL meeting of Wisconsin Art Therapy Association is held, and officers elected.  It is the FIRST STATE ORGANIZATION of art therapists to come into existence.

1969 – The Wisconsin Art Therapy Association was incorporated as a nonprofit organization. Letter to Milwaukee County Executive notifying him of the “intent to initiate a formal education process at the university level at UWM.” Other state Art Therapy Associations’ formal and informal dates of origin.

1976October 13 – Wisconsin Art Therapy Description, Definition, Purpose and Code of Ethics created.

1969June – American Art Therapy Association (AATA) Constitution created.

1970April 24 – Personal Correspondence – “I have a job!”  Katherine Zastrow shares her elation at formally being hired as an art therapist, not an occupational therapist.

1969– WATA presents a position paper to AATA regarding certification criteria and due process.  Wisconsin challenges AATA’s actions as “unconstitutional” according to its own constitution.

1974June – WATA contacts AATA regarding the increase in annual dues.  AATA responds and disagrees with Wisconsin’s position.

1970September 17 – Art Therapy and Art Education begin to be viewed as a new professional field now known as Art Education/Art Therapy. Professional article regarding the process and use of art therapy at Milwaukee Psychiatric Hospital.

1970December – Proposal for certifying those practicing art therapists who have not formally been educated in the field of art therapy.  Internships currently used as part of undergraduate and graduate curriculums are proposed.

1971January – Art Therapy professional, personal and educational requirements.

1971– WATA President, Wayne Ramirez teaches the first Art Therapy course offered at UW – Milwaukee.  Later, budget cuts prevent UW-Milwaukee from creating a curriculum for a master’s degree program in Art Therapy. Art Therapy is listed as a career for the FIRST TIME by the U.S. Department of Labor.

1976– WATA requests that the State of Wisconsin recognize, and assign a DOT number to, the title of Art Therapist in order to be listed in the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (DOT).