Fountain Gallery at "Arts in Mind" Festival

3/20/2013


Fountain Gallery at the "Arts in Mind" Festival

March 20, 2013

By Andrea Roy

On Saturday, March 16, Fountain Gallery Director Jason Bowman participated in a panel discussion with other leaders of innovative programs of the arts in mental health at the first-ever Arts In Mind Festival. Jason organized the panel in conjunction with Arts in Mind's curator, the author Joshua Wolf Shenk. Fountain House has been a sponsor of the Arts in Mind series since its inception in 2010. Jason, along with Fountain Gallery artist Marty Cohen, previously participated in a discussion Art as Mental Health at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) cosponsored by Arts in Mind.

Saturday’s panel was a diverse group that included representatives from the Living Museum, the Austen Riggs Center, Access Programs of the MoMA, The Bridge Project, the Survivors Art Foundation, The New School, and The Artworks Collective.

In his introduction, Joshua Shenk described each of the participants and their affiliated organizations as asking the question: how can art and the rituals of making it and the community around it facilitate sanity? As someone who lives with depression, he described how people who live with mental health problems can easily become trapped in cycles that increase their own suffering. But art...art has the power to deliver people. He remarked, “Art is an alchemy that can transform the basest within us into our best and help us understand that they are the same."

Each panelist opened with a brief description of his/her organization, after which a lively conversation ensued. The discussion covered a lot of ground, but a few themes were pervasive:

Isolation and community

Mental illness is often very isolating, and several of the panelists commented on the power of art to facilitate community. Carrie McGee of the MoMA asserted, “Engagement with art impacts a person’s physical, social, and emotional life.” Art can provide the artists a platform to articulate and share feelings, and it can be a tool for social interaction and transformation. 


Process and product

How do you reconcile the desire to celebrate someone’s efforts with wanting them to produce good work? Raising the bar of artistry while engendering a supportive community, not falling into the trap of “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” and helping people recognize that part of

being an artist is sometimes being critiqued and being disappointed were ideas touched upon by many of the panelists. Panelists also weighed in on the relative benefits of encouraging artists with mental illness to exhibit and sell their work versus the risks of exposing them to the pressure of the competition and commercialism endemic in the art world.

Identity

Often when people are diagnosed with a serious mental illness, that label takes over their life. Creating (and even exhibiting and selling) art affords them an identity apart from that.

The Arts in Mind Festival included four events over two days. A Moth StorySlam on the theme “Going Sane” kicked off the festivities Friday night. Co-hosted by Josh Shenk and Dan Kennedy, the StorySlam gave 10 randomly chosen audience members the chance to spin their best 5- minute tale about the chosen topic. Two other sessions were scheduled on Saturday: a discussion with bestselling author Lois Lowry and the scholar Ellen Handler Spitz on what we can learn from controversies around children’s books that are “too dark” and “What’s Your Hang-Up,” in which a psychologist and art critic investigated the work of two artists, Edwina White and Shantell Martin, to try to determine their central preoccupations.

Arts in Mind is a joint project of Austen Riggs Center and The Sandor Ferenczi Center at the New School for Social Research. The series features top artists ranging across the literary, visual, multi-media, and performing arts whose work touches on mental health issues.

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