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Willamette art show a powerful experience for community and patients

Group of artists standing in front of wall of their art
Patient and art was on display as part of Willamette University's Outsider Art Exhibit, which ran Feb. 28 through March 14. Photos are from the exhibit's opening night.

In February, OSH patients participated in a community art show hosted by Willamette University and coordinated by student Jordis Miller. Patient artists and staff attending the opening night of the gallery, Friday, Feb. 28, joined community members and students who participated in this unique opportunity to experience art from an often misunderstood community, patients of Oregon State Hospital.

Miller received a Carson Grant to fund a project devoted to art brut, also referred to as raw art or outsider art. Art brut is described as art created from outside the boundaries of official culture and developed during the Surrealist movement in the 1950s.

Miller participated in the September 2013 OSH Art Festival, where she met Sara Slack, OSH creative arts director. Slack shared with Miller her goal of organizing a public exhibition of patient art. The result was the collaboration that produced the two week showing at the Willamette University campus.

artist pals arriving at event
The artists composed their works as part of OSH’s studio art program, established and operated by Slack. While the studio art program helps artists polish and refine their works, the project created another experience for the artists: a chance for the patients to be honored by the community.

“It was an awesome experience,” said Cottage 5 resident Dana Sword. “It really brightened up my day and changed moods for me. Being around smiling faces in the community and seeing people admire our art works was amazing and very gratifying.”

The exhibit, which was open to the public Feb. 28 through March 14, provided an opportunity for the community to learn more about OSH community, mental illness and recovery, as well as the abilities of the patient population.

man standing in front of pictures of art
“Being that we got to integrate and talk with [attendees], it gave them a new understanding of mental health, the hospital and what the patients are like,” said Sword. “I think it was very helpful in the process of destigmatizing what is mental illness and what recovery is about. Because a lot of people think of mental illness as a person who is not on medication, not stabilized or not doing well. They think of the worst-case scenarios, and they don’t think of the possibility that someone can recover and have their mental illness go in remission, and do things or function like how regular people function. So getting to put faces on that and destigmatizing those kinds of beliefs was a huge accomplishment for the art show.”

man standing in fron of a wall of his art

Christy Hey, interim creative arts director, helped coordinate the event with Slack, Miller, Trails treatment mall R.N. Debra Morse-Little and recreation specialist Brad Quist.

“What I thought was most beneficial was on the night of the show, seeing everybody interacting with the college students, Hey said. “There was really no separation that night. I don’t think anyone knew who were the artists and who were the community members. It was a super normalizing experience to be involved with.”

The art show provided many different experiences, including a chance to share a viewpoint from a little-known sector of people. Bridge 2 resident Christopher Star said, “It’s nice to see so many patients involved with the art and doing some really good stuff and not working under the stigma of ‘this is a mental health patient,’ but instead ‘this is a regular citizen.’ ”