From Clinic to Creative Hub: New Narrative’s Art Galleria
On the afternoon of July 15, New Narrative’s Mill Park Clinic was transformed. Lobby furniture was removed to make room for art covering the walls and tables in a variety of mediums, from charcoal drawings to sculpture. The sounds of a solo musician playing electric guitar filled the space with calming tunes. Later, a spoken word artist delivered poetic and powerful lyrics. In a side room repurposed for art therapy, people were gathered around tables working on projects and conversing with New Narrative staff members. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves as they explored the exhibits and checked out items for sale. Some ordered food from local vendors who had set up shop inside.
Vanessa Dewees, an Unlicensed Residential Program Manager at New Narrative, enjoyed the day. “I appreciated the opportunity to connect with participants in a different way to talk about their art, the other pieces they enjoyed looking at, the music that was playing; it was a great experience to interact in that way. I also appreciated the family friendly atmosphere. My kids came with me so we could help set up and they enjoyed the whole process and talked about the cool art they saw and the music they got to listen to for the rest of the day. They got to draw and make slime.”
The person who brought this event to life is Priscilla Tran, a Mental Health Clinician at Mill Park. “When we are able to seen in our joy, our hurt, our pain, and our reality – it is met with relief, intimacy, connection, and clarity,” they said. “I think that was the inspiration behind the Art Galleria; as a counselor, I have had the honor of witnessing my participant’s art [through] music, painting, poems, and so much more.”
Priscilla had put out an agency-wide call for art submissions and was surprised by the volume of pieces brought to their office, some the day before the show. It was clear that New Narrative’s participants had something to say through their work, and wanted to the community to see it.
Art and Mental Health – Unraveling the Myth of Creativity and Mental Wellness
Many of New Narrative’s programs include an artistic option for participants. Compass Rose – a program for former foster youth navigating independence and adulthood – includes a mentorship arm called Ascending Flow where participants can learn and engage with artistic talents such as videography, photography, and making music. Peer-directed program Self-Directed Services offers participants a stipend to aid them in meeting their wellness goals; some choose to buy art supplies as part of that journey.
For others, there can be hesitation at the idea of seeking mental health treatment for fear of losing their artistic inspiration. “When I was deep in the mire of bipolar, I feared wellness was a threat to my creativity,” remembers Olivia Johansson, Wellness & Housing Resource Broker for the Self-Directed Services program. “My mental illness tied itself up with my art, and I have spent my recovery untangling the knots. Now in my work as a peer, I get to share that our creativity is so much more than our mental illnesses.”
Now in my work as a peer, I get to share that our creativity is so much more than our mental illnesses.
Art therapy can provide a host of tools to thrive for participants leaning into their wellness journeys. Kati Hengel, a Registered Art Therapist and Mental Health Clinician at New Narrative, wishes people knew that art therapy isn’t just for kids. “Art therapy is for everyone AND no art experience is required, only to trust in the creative process,” she said. “Art therapy provides an opportunity to communicate, explore; [also to] process one’s emotions, practice self-expression and personal reflection, explore mood and thought patterns, and even assist in processing trauma.”
“It’s about the process, not the product.”
Events like the Art Galleria provide an opportunity – not just for community members, but for other participants as well – to witness the power of creativity in the midst of healing. One resident said that when she saw her art displayed it made her want to do more of it, and that working on those pieces reminded her how much she loves it.
Overall, the event was a success. Vanessa said it best: “I loved the instant community feel of this event and I find it is so nourishing and necessary to have events like this to foster connecting over art and building community.”
I find it so nourishing and necessary to have events like this to foster connecting over art and building community.
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