Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through Art

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Strip District – Pittsburgh, PA

Imagine the hustle and bustle. Various open air and indoor markets; lazy afternoons spent devouring all types of food (from Mexican, to Italian, to Peruvian, Pittsburgh Popcorn, to delicious brunch spreads, and everything in between); and a handful of vendors selling Steelers, Pirates and Penguins gear. I can honestly say I miss the Strip District, a historic market district northeast of downtown Pittsburgh.

Among one of the gems in this district is the Society for Contemporary Craft – a gallery and studio space for contemporary craft artists and those interested in taking art classes. There’s something very powerful about art. It allows you to experience life from different perspectives. As someone who spent her childhood at a creative and performing arts school, you’d imagine my excitement at the opportunity to visit the current exhibit, Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through Artearly last week.

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Society for Contemporary Craft – Pittsburgh, PA

The exhibit is groundbreaking and a testament to the power of art. But why? We know the statistics: one in four adults in America experience a mental illness in any given year. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in seventeen live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, major depression or bipolar disorder. It may be surprising to learn, but someone you know lives with a mental illness – whether they have been diagnosed or not. That means that people we encounter everyday are living silence, often without a support network or access to adequate resources and treatment.

The Mindful exhibit provides a very unique approach to a crucial conversation in today’s society. With the rather high statistics of individuals living with mental illness, it is important to put their experiences into context. Mindful, which features over thirty works created by fourteen contemporary artists, shows what it is like to live with, or support someone who lives with, mental illness.

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Lyn Godley, In Flight, 2011, Optical fiber, Dimensions

Once I arrived at the Society for Contemporary Craft, I was taken aback by the exhibit. Staff welcomed me into the space, and I was given a quick overview about the difference pieces of art I would d experience. There were 3D and 2D pieces; the art installations really pulled at something deep within me.

I’ve watched loved ones battle “invisible” illnesses, and even lost friends to suicide, so the artwork resonated with me in a way I didn’t anticipate. Among the pieces were social commentaries on our increasing reliance on medication for treating severe illnesses. There were political commentaries exploring the connection between power, waging war, and inadequate healthcare for our country’s warriors in the Armed Forces. There were depictions of what it is like to try to reach out to a loved one living with depression – and what it is like to feel like you’ve failed. Guilt sets in. Loss of control can be debilitating. Yet, there was an air of hope to each piece. By telling a narrative through art, perhaps the artists hope that those viewing it will take their work as a motivating story (or as a cautionary warning) that one may see their own reflection in.

After spending a good amount of time in the exhibit, I wandered around the corner to the Thought Cloud, where visitors to the space were encouraged to speak their mind by sharing messages with others. I gladly left a few notes myself. I loved being able to interact and engage with the space.

There is no doubt that art is therapeutic. Art also has the power to intensify an experience. Being able to take a glimpse at mental illness through diverse lenses was rather transformative. It was also a great segue for challenging stereotypes and misunderstanding surrounding mental health.

For those who would like an alternative introduction to mental illness, and for those who may already know the story behind mental health realities (whether it’s from lived experience or through someone you know), I encourage you to check out Mindful: Exploring Mental Health Through ArtThe exhibit will be on display in Pittsburgh for a short time more before it is moved to other arts spaces.

I encourage you to explore Mindful at a city near you:

Society for Contemporary Craft
Pittsburgh, PA
Now extended through March 26, 2016

Ohio Craft Museum
Columbus, OH
July 10 – August 21, 2016

Daura Gallery, Lynchburg College
Lynchburg, VA
September 19- December 9, 2016

Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art
Virginia Beach, VA
January 27 – April 16, 2017

Kaddatz Galleries and Lake Region Arts Council, McKnight Gallery
Fergus Falls, MN
August 14 – October 7, 2017

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