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Editorial: Finding Our Artistic Voice

Network, Spring 2004

All forms of art have a special place in my heart. I come from a family where women’s work was cooking, sewing, knitting and crocheting — pursuits which my aunts, grandmothers and mother used to express their artist selves even though their work was put to everyday use. Creativity was in the air that I breathed and it is a central part of my life. It is also central to the lives of the many contributors to this issue of Network.

We’ve addressed artistic expression on many levels. First, I would like to mention our own artistic endeavour. We have redesigned Network itself. The idea is to modernize our appearance so that Network looks less like a professional journal and more like a magazine with broad appeal. The cover celebrates the work of a talented artist, Danae Chambers, and we will continue this approach to cover design in the future. The interior of the magazine has also been altered, with a fresh layout and more playful typography, thanks to the talented work of Soapbox Design Communications. We hope you find it as engaging as we do. Our thanks also to artist and survivor Jean Johnson for inspiring this issue.

Art, in relation to mental health, is most frequently discussed as therapy. There is no doubt that art therapy is both uplifting (for client and therapist alike) and effective in promoting healing and recovery. But art has many more dimensions and roles in people’s lives.

Isabel Frysberg’s heroic struggle to keep the Creative Works Studio open is a case in point. Members find that the time they spend making their art is the centrepiece of the creation of new and powerful lives — despite living with a mental illness. The Workman Theatre Project appeals to actors (who happen to have a mental illness), and to people who have a mental illness (who happen to want to try acting). Both groups learn to take artistic risks that give them power and confidence in other parts of their lives. Under the direction of Lisa Brown, the Workman Theatre Project has extended its reach to embrace other creative disciplines, including film and visual arts. The annual Rendezvous with Madness Film Festival is now a fixture in Toronto’s cultural calendar, creating a much-needed stage for public discussions of mental illness and how it is represented on film. We also feature art that sparks conversations and changes attitudes. The FAN Club uses puppetry to teach children about their emotional side. Donna Morrissey found her artistic voice as a writer, and singer-songwriter James Gordon used his art to reach others when his son was diagnosed with a mental illness. Jay Lefler lost his art, for awhile, but then he found it again and used his talent to help him recover from mental illness. His mother, Judith Rosenberg, seeing how creative expression helped her son, founded Spark of Brilliance where art helps people with mental illness find their talents and their confidence. (Both Jay Lefler’s and Judith Rosenberg’s stories appear exclusively online, in our new Web Extras section.)

Humans seem to crave ways to express themselves that can touch other people’s hearts. Mental illness often isolates people, sometimes because they are shunned, and sometimes because the illness, itself, interferes with their ability to reach out, or to be reached. Art appears to be a universal language that offers a way in — to that which is human in ourselves and in others. Art is obviously not only for people with mental illness. It’s for everyone, and perhaps therein lies its universal power. Anyone can find and use their artistic voice … and feel better because of it.

Barbara Everett, Ph.D.
CEO, Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario

» Return to Network, Spring 2004 – Contents