Public Art Project Celebrates People in Mental Health Recovery

by Diane VanDyke

People can and do recover from mental illness. The evidence is the men and women who live successfully in their communities, with supports and services that enable them to lead healthy and fulfilled lives. To put a spotlight on mental health recovery, I’m the Evidence/Mental Health Campaign (ITE/MH), a grassroots initiative of the Mental Health Association in Pennsylvania (MHAPA), has developed the Faces of Mental Health Recovery Public Art Project, a photography project that celebrates individuals in recovery and their supporters.

Montgomery County Community College’s Partnership on Work Enrichment and Readiness (POWER) Program and HopeWorx are partnering with ITE/MH to bring Faces of Mental Health Recovery to Montgomery County. The project launched on May 17-18 with a hands-on photography workshop at the College’s Fine Arts Center. During the workshop, people from our community who are in mental health recovery and individuals from their support networks learn photography skills, take portraits of one another and develop their personal stories to share with the public. The process helps build an understanding of the impact their stories have in addressing the misunderstandings and stigma that too often surround mental illness.

Kathie Mitchell, the Director of Advocacy at HopeWorx, a peer-driven mental health advocacy agency in Norristown, saw the portraits and stories from the Faces of Mental Health Recovery exhibition in Perry County and was inspired to bring the project to Montgomery County.

“One in four people in the U.S. live with mental illness. People also are able to recover and live full lives,” says Sue Walther, Executive Director of MHAPA. “Faces of Mental Health Recovery celebrates this recovery. In the faces and stories of the people featured, we see that recovery is possible and that it is unique for everyone. We are thrilled to bring the project to Montgomery County, a model for recovery focused programs and policies in Pennsylvania.”

The College’s POWER Program Director Diane Haar is pleased that POWER Program graduates will be participating in this unique exhibition where they can share their remarkable stories.

“Montgomery County has been at the forefront of the mental health recovery movement in Pennsylvania, and the POWER Program at Montgomery County Community College has played a vital part by providing important supporting steps for many who are on the journey to reach their employment goals and succeed,” says Haar. “As a representative of the POWER Program, I am proud that the College has been chosen to host this special event and am very happy that POWER Program graduates will participate in the exhibit and be a part of the ‘I’m the Evidence/Mental Health’ campaign. They truly are the evidence of recovery and achievement.”

The College will showcase portraits created during the workshop in its Parkhouse Hall Atrium. Exhibited as large-scale, black-and-white portraits wheat pasted onto plywood panels, the images show the personality, spirit, and resiliency of each person.

The exhibition opens on Thursday, June 19, 2014 at 6:30 p.m. with a special reception in Montgomery County Community College’s Parkhouse Hall atrium, 340 DeKalb Pike, Blue Bell. The reception is free and open to the public—everyone is welcome. The exhibition will be on display through Wednesday, July 9.

Click here for a map of the campus and parking. Visitors may park in the green parking lot for electric vehicles near the Advanced Technology Center and Parkhouse Hall for convenient access to the exhibit.

Following the exhibition, all portraits are archived and can be seen online at itecampaign.org/art.

ITE/MH is a grassroots campaign to raise awareness about how each of us can positively impact the lives of people in mental health recovery, by honoring human potential, creating opportunities, and offering encouragement. ITE/MH celebrates people who are the living evidence of mental health recovery, as well as those individuals, organizations, and communities that offer support and hope along the journey.www.Itecampaign.org.

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