Living Free
New Freedom Arts Inc. improves lives through the healing power of the arts
by Jennifer Updike

Dorothy Marie Francis’ story is a testament to the healing power of the arts.


Starting in November she will bring that gift of healing to Buckingham through New Freedom Arts Inc. This fine arts gallery and educational center will provide support to those whose lives have been affected by domestic violence and/or drug and alcoholism through counseling, equestrian therapy and instruction in areas of art, music and film.


For 26 years, in fact, Francis has been working in legal administration wherein she has repeatedly seen the need for additional supportive services for assisting clients whose lives have been affected by domestic violence and/or drug and alcoholism. 


“It has been my observation,” Francis says, “that addiction—like cancer—is a disease that permeates the entire family and community.” 


Out of this observation, paired with her own personal healing and a deep calling to help others, grew the idea for New Freedom Arts. Since the center’s inception, the vision has included a strongly supported fine arts gallery including paintings, ceramics, wood, glass, jewelry and poetry readings, as well as a grand piano, right on the premises, featuring local and regional artists. 


Francis’ passion for the arts was borne of her own experience in painting and creating music to overcome childhood trauma. Even from a very young age, she was painfully shy; the idea of leaving her mother’s side in order to attend school or do anything on her own terrified her. She developed a pattern of panicking and always let someone else be in control—to the point where she felt like she lost herself.


Short glimpses of self-realization and happiness would flash by on days spent getting up early to paint a pumpkin patch on the classroom windows before and after school. Truly excelling at such activities, she realized, made her feel special in a way she hadn’t before. 


Then a much bigger breakthrough came. Her parents generously gave her the opportunity to take piano lessons, despite the tight financial climate of the times. One day, Francis found herself playing the piano in front of her class, and the chronic panic vanished. She spent all of her allowance money on sheet music, and would play anything she could get her hands on. By the age of 14, when she was diagnosed with severe scoliosis and had to wear a body cast for four years, she found her only sources of relief—from the physical pain and the emotional pain of being different—in the arts.  


Music continued to have a healing effect well into Francis’ adulthood. She vividly remembers the night she got the news that her daughter’s father had been diagnosed with Stage-4 cancer. To cope with the stress, she went for a walk and found herself at the church she attended while she was growing up. Something told her to go to a different door than usual, however, which led her to the most beautiful grand piano she had ever seen: a 7-foot Steinway. She then started frequenting this piano, whose rich and full voice inspired her to discover her own singing voice for the first time. Even to this day, she remembers hearing her voice there, bouncing off the marble and wood of the empty church.  


“It was the most amazing feeling I ever experienced,” she says. “It gave me purpose somehow.” 


Making Friends

Francis would often take her daughter to the church to color on the altar while she sang with her newfound voice and played the Steinway. One day, Francis was so engrossed in her rendition of “You’ve Got a Friend,” that she didn’t hear another woman come into the church. When Francis was finished, she found the woman, with tears in her eyes, who asked if she could give Francis a hug. The woman told Francis she had been planning to kill herself, but something urged her to come to this church, which she had never been to before.


“She thanked me for being there and left stating she felt better and wasn’t going to kill herself,” Francis says. “Over the years, I have continued to witness the healing powers of art and music. … They bring joy and purpose to my life.”


And, through New Freedom Arts, they will also bring joy and purpose to many others. In addition to its other services, the center will provide music-recording services on premises and a record label for the center’s music students who may be up-and-coming artists. Local recording artist, singer/songwriter and vocal coach Christy Jefferson, who has released seven of her own albums through her record label, will head up this part of the operation, which includes teaching music at the center. 


“I’m really excited to be involved in a project where our mission is to use the arts to make the world a better place,” Jefferson says. “And what better place to start than right here in our little corner of Bucks County?”  


Unconditional Love

New Freedom Arts’ equestrian services will be offered off-site at The Gemmell Farm on Cold Spring Creamery Road in Doylestown, courtesy of Lois Gemmell. Gemmell has been riding horses since childhood, and teaching others how to ride since her teens. Her background and educational experience include working as a Counselor II with the Bucks County Detention Center for more than 10 years, as well as Montessori Directress.


“Horses are these 1,000-pound creatures who give unconditional love,” says Gemmell. “What riding teaches is that … you [and the horse] have to work together, giving the human power and confidence to be in a relationship on a common ground of give and take; the horse and rider are equals. There must be effective communication of what you want in a positive way to have a successful outcome, whether the client has a background of domestic violence or drug and alcohol addiction,” or if the rider is a child within the autism spectrum.


“The horse teaches the rider that ‘others’ don’t have control; you have control,” she continues. “The horse, through offering unconditional and non-judging love, teaches that communication is the key to having it all come together, and that relearning trust of self is paramount to having a successful relationship with others.”


Gemmell can be contacted at 215-622-5990 or For more information about The Gemmell Farm, visit


Fundraising events are being planned throughout the year, with keynote speakers such as Victor Rivers, spokesperson for the National Network to End Domestic Violence and formerly known as “The Longest Long Shot” when he was offensive guard for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins in 1978-79; singer-songwriter Judy Collins; legendary Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Bernie Parent; Rhonda Britten, founder of Fearless Living Institute; Fred Mandell Ph.D., former executive with American Express Financial Advisors, creative catalyst and author of “Becoming A Life Change Artist”; former NFL running back Larry Csonka; former Phillie Jamie Moyer and his wife, Karen, and more. 


Proceeds from all events hosted by New Freedom Arts will supplement existing programs working with clients in recovery from domestic violence and/or drug and alcohol recovery. Specifically, these programs provide assistance for those who have filed for protection from abuse orders and the subsequent legal proceedings, as well as assistance with transitional safe housing, medical bills and career development.


Of course, in accordance with Francis’ vision, the proceeds will also fund the art, music and equestrian services, which will be available at no cost to clients in need. 


To volunteer in organizing events or become a corporate sponsor, contact Linda Sue at or 267-896-0196. For artists interested in showcasing their artwork for New Freedom Arts’ monthly juried art shows at the gallery, contact Dorothy Marie Francis at or 267-337-4193.