Freud would have loved her. When he spoke of leaving things in “the capable hands of the artists,” he might have been thinking about Diana Pletts, MA, creator and director of the Phoenix Project, an art exhibition that showcases the work of ex-cult members.
With the iconoclasm and prescience of a true artist, Diana says,
…this is kind of counterintuitive and not quite PC [politically correct] in terms of cult recovery, but in some weird way I feel we as ex-members have been given a gift, afterward, of actually being able to see better than we could before, and, perhaps, better than others can. We are sensitive to things in the world to which others are not, necessarily. I think that from Wellspring I somehow got the notion that I had to accept that evil that had occurred, to come to terms with it, and that out of it can come a great good. We are like canaries in the coal mine—our sensitivities make us aware of realities of which others are not aware. This is a hard-won benefit.
With this generous and nurturing attitude, Diana encourages, receives, and organizes the work of her fellow ex-members, creating exhibits that are displayed at ICSA conferences. She also assists Michael Langone and Ann Stamler in finding work to be published in ICSA Today magazine.
Diana grew up in suburban New York City in a “middle-class, Ukrainian, Catholic family with much time spent with beloved cousins, reading, and out in nature.” She entered State University of New York (SUNY), Purchase, in Westchester County, New York as a film student, earning a spot in the highly regarded, highly competitive program.
“Although it had been difficult to get into the film department, I left it quickly once I got into my group, at age 20.” The group was known as the Path, and it was located in upstate New York:
Its focus was the last days, and the need to be preparing for those coming days in various ways. I went from being a film student to a reluctant student of electrical technology in a community college…
The group broke up about five years after I joined, after I had married in the group and had my eldest child. Although I was out of the group, the group was not out of me—not for over another twenty years, when I went for exit counseling at Wellspring in Ohio.
Wellspring made a profound impact on Diana:
The Phoenix Project really was a result of my time in Wellspring…. Dr. Martin encouraged me to reacquaint myself with my artistic precult self…. When I was completing my undergraduate degree I began to produce cult-related art and writing and music, and I recalled Dr. Martin’s idea of some sort of place for ex-members to produce their art freely. While I couldn’t do that, I did think it was possible for us to have a place to at least exhibit our work; so I began to pursue finding that place.
2014 marks the sixth Phoenix Project since its beginning in 2006 at the ICSA annual conference in Denver, Colorado. About her work, Diana says,
I have found it a wonderful pleasure and delight to work on the Phoenix Project, bringing together people’s works, getting to read and view and hear them, and trying to come up with a way to showcase them. I find it very exciting to be able to interact with the creators and find a way to get their works out there. Opening the boxes and files is like Christmas!
Diana has been married for more than thirty-five years to her husband, Denny; together, they have three sons, one daughter, and one grandchild. Besides ICSA, she also works with another nonprofit and has shared her experience at various venues, on the radio, and at Chautauqua Institution. She currently lives on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.
Diana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org