Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Letter from Jes: Partnerships at Spectrum ArtWorks


The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that 1 in 5 families are affected by mental illness. I have read in other places that mental illness impacts 1 - 4 people. For those reasons, part of the mission of Spectrum ArtWorks is to continue educating the public and work to reduce stigma associated with mental illness. Uniquely, we are also a program which is founded on providing direct services to professional artists living with mental illnesses.

Mental illness affects persons of any age, religion, race, and income. And it also affects artists. It takes a lot of work and courage to make a career out of your art, and it takes a lot of courage to live openly as someone living with mental illness. Thus, Spectrum ArtWorks acts as a bridge. We see the artist first and never discount the challenge of living with a mental illness.

Art is a form of communication. It also brings people together. 

Just last week, Christi Furnas, myself, and Peter F. Hinze presented at the American Swedish Institute on Spectrum ArtWorks to a number of behavioral health and human service providers, all to provide context to our work and share why we do what we do and how we do it. At the end of the presentation, Christi voiced out loud the following, a statement I appreciate and cannot shake:

Art is a form of intelligent, insightful communication.
That we come together to fight stigma by communicating in this way shows our strength, and understanding and willingness to overcome injustice. 

To do this, we work with courage.

It takes courage to be defined as a person living with a major mental illness.  We feel that by being open, positive representatives, the definition of the term will change. 

Eventually more people will live without shame.

Christi’s words show how we understand the cultural and social power of art; the role art can play in someone’s individual life as well as how art can inform and communicate. That is why our program is so public, because we are artists raising awareness.

Christi and Pete before our big presentation last week on Spectrum ArtWorks!

But how do we do that? We start first by thinking about our mission, and how we can represent it publicly and creatively. What we have found works best to do this is to partner with other agencies, organizations, businesses, and companies. In these partnerships, we find a support system, but also a way to show how others care, too, about breaking down stigma as well as advocating for mental health treatment and support.  As a group we assess our interest in moving forward with these partnerships. It is pretty rare that we say no. Every opportunity counts. So on that note, let me share with you what partnerships we have been working on and developing upon…

We are excited to share with you a partnership where Spectrum ArtWorks will pair up with all three of RESOURCE’S community support programs (CSP) to support a recovery focused empowerment tool called Photovoice, a project which couples photography with creative writing. Charaka, the Lighthouse, and the Northwest CSP will all offer sessions of Photovoice. The project aims to give individuals an opportunity to express themselves in a different way.  Some participants of Photovoice have never explored photography before. Some participants have never been able to express their experience of living with mental illness before. Often this program is referred to as RECOVERY THROUGH PHOTOS.  It’s simple really. You take a photo and put words to it, applying a metaphor; that is why it resembles recovery. The goal of this year’s Photovoice program, a program that happens annually at RESOURCE, is to conclude with a public exhibition of the artwork, an exhibition Spectrum ArtWorks will manage.  Photovoice: Recovery through Photos, the exhibition will travel during winter 2015/2016 and will show in community spaces such as coffee shops and libraries. The first exhibition will unveil mid-December at The Nicollet, a cafĂ© in Minneapolis Spectrum ArtWorks partners with.

The Nicollet will also exhibit Impossible Things: A Spectrum ArtWorks Group Exhibition. The show will open May 13th, 2015. The opening reception will be announced soon! Be prepared to see how each Core Group artist approaches a themed-exhibition.

All of the partnerships we develop and are invited to form are special and unique collaborations. One that we are so proud of is our partnership with Procentive, a pioneer in EHR (electronic health records) and practice management software. Procentive is based in Hudson, WI and provides EHR solutions exclusively for behavioral health and human services agencies around the country. Procentive began showcasing the Spectrum ArtWorks Core Group artists on March 12, 2015. They are featuring artwork on a rotating basis as a way to increase awareness across Procentive’s entire network of providers. The goal is to encourage more artists with a mental health diagnosis to participate in supportive, artist-related services. 

“Everyday, thousands of therapists and staff log into their Procentive accounts,” notes Procentive CEO, Randy Zimmermann.  “With this exciting partnership, we will be doing two things for them:  brightening their day with beautiful artwork and introducing them to the Spectrum ArtWorks program.  Our hope is that therapists across the country will encourage their artistic clients to participate in Spectrum ArtWorks, amplifying the impact that this program is making in the lives of artists with mental illness.”

Kelly Matter, RESOURCE’S President and CEO had these nice things to say as well, “This partnership with Procentive is exciting because it provides yet another way for high quality, thought-provoking art to challenge audiences. Ultimately, we hope it transforms the perceptions people have of mental illness while being touched personally by this beautiful work.”

Pete and Kelly Matter, RESOURCE'S President and CEO, after the presentation. 

It is an honor to stand with Procentive as leaders in challenging stigmas and as totems for supporting artists living with mental illnesses.

And the list keeps going… We will also be exhibiting a collaborative piece for What’s Left: Lives Touched by Suicide, a multimedia exhibit that creates a proactive dialogue on suicide to break the stigma that surrounds it. The show is set to open at the MacRostie Art Center in Grand Rapids, Minnesota  in September 2015. Spectrum ArtWorks was commissioned by the exhibit’s Project Director, John Bauer, to produce a piece for the show. After development of the exhibition and the initial display at MacRostie Art Center, the exhibit will tour to locations around the state of Minnesota.

Lastly, Spectrum ArtWorks introduced a partnership with the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) to begin a Teaching Artist internship. This partnership not only helps undergraduate students gain experience while working towards becoming teaching artists, but it brings the larger arts community into the program’s art studio. Because this internship program has been successful so far, Spectrum ArtWorks hopes to continue this partnership with MCAD. Separate internships from MCAD are also being developed and considered, such a studio management intern.

So that’s that it in a nutshell. If you have questions about the program or would like more information, please contact me.

Jes Reyes
Arts Specialist 
Spectrum ArtWorks