Art therapy helps those with mental illness

For Char Gile and Leo Sauvageau, art has been life-changing.

The two are artists at Bridgeview Community Support Program, a drop-in center in Fridley for adults living with serious and persistent mental illness.

Bridgeview member Leo Sauvageau works on art during open studio. Photo by Elizabeth Sias

Bridgeview member Leo Sauvageau works on art during open studio. Photo by Elizabeth Sias

Three times a week, they participate in open studio at Bridgeview’s art studio, which recently expanded into a larger space. An open house July 21 celebrated the new space, and proceeds from art sold will benefit the Bridgeview art program.

“It’s a very encouraging environment,” said Robin Getsug, the art therapist who leads the art program at Bridgeview. “Most people get in the zone of their art so they forget about some of the problems and the diagnosis.”

Bridgeview is one of the mental health programs offered by Lee Carlson Center for Mental Health & Well-Being, a Fridley nonprofit that has provided mental health services for 35 years.

This summer, Bridgeview received an accessibility improvement grant from VSA, the state organization on arts and disability. The $15,000 grant will help Bridgeview enhance the art studio to improve functionality and support expansion of the space.

The Bridgeview art program also received a $10,000 grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council to increase access to supplies and expand open studio hours.

With the money, seven teaching artists will come to Bridgeview to focus on visual journaling of what it’s like to be an artist who lives with a persistent mental illness.

Each week, Bridgeview offers 15 hours of art studio time over three days with up to 25 members participating in each art session. There are also member-led workshops, art therapy workshops, teaching artist workshops and collaborative projects. Programming is a blend of art instruction, art history and art as therapy.

Members have access to a wide variety of materials and mediums — watercolor, acrylics, clay, drawing, craft materials, mixed media, fabric and more. The VSA Minnesota and MRAC grants will help with digital printing of images to expand the possibilities and prices ranges for the sale of artwork created by members.

Gile has been coming to Bridgeview for over five years but only started doing art last winter. She said art has helped her with anxiety and depression.

“I used to have really bad panic attacks that would last for two hours, and I don’t anymore,” Gile said. “Art calms me down and anchors me.”

She said she enjoys the camaraderie the artists share — they support each other and compliment other artists’ work.

“It’s kind of like a family,” she said. “Coming to art has really helped with my depression.”

As for Sauvageau, he started coming to Bridgeview in 2013 to help with his depression and anxiety.

“Having the peer support and having people like-minded around me is very important and has been very helpful with my recovery,” he said.

Through the support of Bridgeview members and staff, Sauvageau said he’s learned to accept himself.

“I realized that we all have moments — we all get down and we’re not always able to function how we want or feel is best, but I’m learning that who we are as people is acceptable,” he said. Art is a means for him to process his emotions, he said.

Getsug said the art program helps members identify themselves primarily as an artist rather than someone with a persistent mental illness. During open studio, many artists collaborate and help each other with their work.

“As an art therapist, I try to encourage anybody who comes through Bridgeview to come in and try art,” Getsug said, explaining the art therapy is more about the process of expression through colors, shapes, lines and symbols. “You don’t have to be an artist.”

About Bridgeview

Bridgeview Community Support Program is a psycho-social drop-in center for adults living with serious and persistent mental illness. Bridgeview is one of the mental health programs offered by Lee Carlson Center for Mental Health & Well-Being, a nonprofit providing mental health services for 35 years.

The art program at Bridgeview is made possible by the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, VSA Minnesota: The State Organization on Arts and Disability, and the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment.

To learn more about Bridgeview or the art program or to make a financial donation, contact Patty Halvorson at 763-230-7836 or phalvoron@leecarlsoncenter.org.

Info: leecarlsoncenter.org.

Elizabeth Sias is at elizabeth.sias@ecm-inc.com

  • Frank Blankenship

    Art therapy helps those without “mental illnesses”, too. Art careers help even more.

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