It’s incredible to think that this year marks ten years of partnering with the Penticton Mental Wellness Centre and our continuing series of exhibitions exploring the parallels between creativity and mental illness. The goal of these exhibitions has always been to raise the public’s awareness about mental health, foster open conversation, and promote effective coping strategies, self-care, resilience and hope throughout our community.
This annual exhibition is the outcome of an art program began in 2007 by Dr. Mark Welch, Nurse Manager of Acute Mental Health Services for the South Okanagan Similkameen. The original show included mixed media creations by persons who were hospitalized at Penticton Regional Hospital and photos from the Photovoice program co-ordinated by Canadian Mental Health Association South Okanagan Similkameen Branch.
Over the years, we have grown. Artists are now asked for a single piece as there are usually more artists than space to show all their work to advantage! The contributors are community members who may have a mental illness or the general public who want to show their support or lived experience with mental health challenges.
It’s an honour to once again partner with the Penticton Mental Wellness Centre to explore parallels between creativity and mental illness and through this annual series of exhibitions we hope to raise awareness about mental health, foster open conversation, and promote effective coping strategies, self-care, resilience and hope throughout our community. Many people express the importance of art and creativity as integral to their recovery. Writing, music, painting, dance, and other arts are pleasurable activities but are conduits for expression of the self; hard to express in any other way. Art is a powerful healing tool to explore deep emotions - the sorrows, the struggles, and joys. It has the ability to transform us by awakening parts of ourselves to recover and heal from earlier traumatic memories. Through artwork, people can develop their own personal vocabularies for a fuller identity. Through the sharing of their work we can open up a greater community dialogue for a deeper and more meaningful understanding of their world and in doing so shed the stigma that haunts those who suffer from a disease that touches each and every one of us.
Over the past ten years a large part of the success of this exhibition has been the willingness of the participating artists to share not only their work but also their identity and stories with the community. The first few years we never identified the artists out of fear they would be further stigmatized, but over the years we have seen a dramatic increase in the public’s understanding and knowledge and this has resulted in the individual artists being willing to publically share their stories and struggles.
In exploring this topic online there are no shortages of resources, support groups, definitions, studies and endless pages exploring the parallels and correlations between creativity and mental illness. One of those pages Wikipedia states: “…it has been proposed that there is a particular link between creativity and mental illness (e.g. bipolar disorder, whereas major depressive disorder appears to be significantly more common among playwright, novelists, biographers, and artists.) Association between mental illness and creativity first appeared in literature in the 1970s, but the idea of a link between "madness" and "genius" is much older, dating back at least to the time of Aristotle. The Ancient Greeks believed that creativity came from the gods, in particular the Muses (the mythical personifications of the arts and sciences, the nine daughters of Zeus). Romantic writers had similar ideals, with Lord Byron having pleasantly expressed, "We of the craft are all crazy. Some are affected by gaiety, others by melancholy, but all are more or less touched".
When asked to contribute some background information on the exhibition, Valerie Wood, the exhibitions volunteer organizer sent in the following excerpt from an article by Gayle Bluebird entitled, Using the Arts to Recover Mental Health, published in the Mental Health Recovery Newsletter 1.3, Copyright: Mary Ellen Copeland, 2000.
“Many people express the importance of art and creativity as integral to their recovery. Writing, music, painting, dance, and other arts are pleasurable activities but are conduits for expression of the self which is hard to express in any other way. Art is a powerful healing tool to explore deep emotions - the sorrows, the struggles, and joys. It has the ability to transform us by awakening parts of ourselves to recover and heal from earlier traumatic memories. Through artwork, people can develop their own personal vocabularies for a fuller identity.
Persons who are creating with the arts have things in common to talk about; they can meet over a cup of coffee, critique each other's work, discuss reviews of professional artists and writers, and attend performances together. The inspiration that can be derived from other people's performances and works can lead to the development of their own art. For example, performances by local musicians who are sensitive and expressive may serve as inspiration for their own song or poem.
Art and creativity can be used by anyone - that is what is so exciting. It does not require being taught or require a therapist to help one be creative. Some may want to be observers or dabble in a "fun" experience. Art for some may be writing a journal, creating a garden, or making a recipe. Others may
take photographs of something that is particularly inspiring to them, or draw cartoons. Some artists may want to perfect their art - to "plumb the depths" so to speak - which takes practice and "doing." There is a place for everyone.”
This year we are also proud to partner with Penticton’s Unity House and Marcela A. Toro Garland who facilitated a Therapeutic Art Class entitled ‘Drawing Fundamentals’, at Unity for a period of ten months. Over that period she designed the program as a cognitive therapeutic activity for people experiencing Mental Health issues and who were in great need to enhance their overall sense of wellbeing. The art class, even though it coached participants on use of materials and basic drawing skills, mostly represented a pleasurable activity for those afflicted by depression and/or other severe mental health ailments. The focus was not placed on the end product, but rather on process; thus, boosting self-esteem and sense of accomplishment. Her goal was to help contribute in the creation of safe environment where individuals could explore creativity.
Marcela A. Toro Garland has worked for years in the Social Services field, particularly with victims of trauma. She was instrumental in the expansion of an Immigrant Settlement & Adaptation Program for the whole South Okanagan region. Due to her ability with languages, she encountered many clients afflicted by PTSD and displacement due to both civil and foreign conflicts. After this extensive experience it was a natural progression to develop an interest and later a more in-depth understanding on Wellness & Healing. In conjunction with this work, Marcela is an accomplished visual artist. www.toro-garland.ca
In closing I would like to personally thank all the artists who have opened their souls and shared their creativity allowing us a window into their lives, their struggles and their triumphs. Once again I am indebted to Valerie Wood, Society volunteer Penticton Mental Wellness Centre, Sharon Evans President, Mental Wellness Centre, BC Schizophrenia Society-Penticton Branch, Marcela A. Toro Garland facilitator at Penticton’s Unity House and Dr. Mark Welch who planted the seed, without all our trust and belief this exhibition would not have been possible. This exhibition also coincides annually with Mental Illness Awareness Week and we ask that you take this opportunity to check in with your friends and loved ones.
I would also like to personally invite you down to the gallery on Wednesday September 27 from 2 - 3 pm for our next Topics & Tea featuring Sharon Evans who will be speaking on the topic of Art as a Catalyst for Healing and the ongoing value of this important partnership. In closing, if you or someone you know is in need of help or requires someone to talk please call the Penticton crisis line 24 hours a day seven days a week at 1-888-353-2273.