Art on the move

Robin Gore, Art Room volunteer at Coast Mental Health’s Resource Centre, instructs client Leo Gallibois in the art studio. | Photo courtesy of Coast Mental Health

Community organization Coast Mental Health is bringing its popular art show on the road to venues around the lower Mainland with their first ever Art Project Roadshow.

As you can see,” says Coast Mental Health Resources Centre program manager Justin Hachlaf, “we used to have shows and sell our art here.” He indicates the paintings, sculptures, and collages decorating the walls of the centre, a drop-in space catering to marginalized people in Vancouver.

The art is created by the many people who visit the facility; this year, 16 of these artists will display their work in twelve public spaces. The roadshow begins in May at the Central Library branch of the Vancouver Public Library and will progress through other Lower Mainland communities like Burnaby and West Vancouver.

Trauma and tokes

The Resource Centre is a low-barrier, inclusive place,” explains Hachlaf. “We serve individuals who are vulnerable, living under the poverty line, who don’t have access to housing or their own showers. People feel safe here. It’s a place where they can access primary resources like the internet, a hot meal, or just someone to talk to.”

The reasons for mental health difficulties are myriad, Hachlaf points out.

“For people on welfare assistance or persons with disabilities, the cost of living can make it nearly impossible to pay for meds or a psychologist,” Hachlaf notes. “Trauma is an underlying feature of being homeless.”

Substance abuse can also be a problem for clients, explains Hachlaf. “If you’re without a pre-existing condition like schizophrenia, you can smoke a few joints, have a few drinks. But people with mental health issues can be affected quickly. We see symptoms you wouldn’t normally expect from someone who has had only a few tokes.”

The centre’s many services include pet therapy, acupuncture, tai chi, and yoga in addition to the art studio, where people can use whatever creative medium they want. These services not only help to maintain mental health, but also to build social skills.

“People who are facing stigma often don’t have a lot of friends,” says Hachlaf. “There’s a loneliness. If you have trouble expressing love to a person, then here comes this beautiful golden retriever…” That can help someone to open up, according to Hachlaf.

Art, too, can help with social situations, as well as give clients a creative outlet.

A hangable show

While art serves as therapy for clients at the center, Hachlaf believes it’s important to remember that it can also be good art. Clients are taught artistic skills by daily volunteers that include professional artists such as photographer Beryl Woodrow and sculptor and collage artist Marcia Pitch.

The work of local artist Leef Evans will be on display at the Art Project Roadshow. | Photo courtesy of Coast Mental Health

“Our artists include Leef Evans and Gurl23; she’s been getting a lot of press,” says Hachlaf of two clients whose work has been featured in galleries around Vancouver.

Often these people cannot enter artistic competitions due to their circumstances, Hachlaf explains. “Some of the forms are really complicated. Some require you to take a picture with your phone or use a social media platform. And if you aren’t computer-savvy or you don’t have a phone, it’s difficult.”

Artists at the centre work in many styles and mediums and this variety will be represented in the roadshow, Hachlaf says.

“The only stipulation was that it be hangable,” says Hachlaf. And that covers a lot of ground: “Portraits, landscapes, watercolours, abstracts…everything!”

Hachlaf believes that shows like this one will aid clients in their long-term aims. The hope of the centre, he says, is that people will feel “more established and secure in themselves. Then they can work on becoming part of the larger community.”

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