Creative therapy

Art speaks volumes. The creations at this exhibit are no different – but there’s a twist: The artwork displayed at The Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute is created by individuals with mental, emotional and physical disabilities.

“It’s an exhibit displaying works of art from different groups that work with individuals who have physical, emotional or mental disabilities to give them an outlet for expression,” said Marlyn Moore, the special events coordinator and facilities manager of the Institute.

The idea behind the exhibit was a collaborative effort of the Mental Health Institute and five other organizations – the MacDonald Training Center, Mental Health Care, Inc., Project Return, Inc., Pyramid, Inc., and the VSA arts of Florida – all of which help individuals and families with disabilities lead lives that concentrate on and celebrate their abilities.

The first exhibit began in January, 2006 and continues as an ongoing project by replacing the artwork every three months.

“We will have a reception at the beginning of the exhibit where individuals can meet the artist and purchase their artwork if they want, but it’s certainly not necessary,” Moore said. “And the purpose of that is to bring the artist out so they can talk about their work and give them a little bit of a lift from seeing that we do appreciate what they do.”

The art covers everything from paintings using glow-in-the-dark puffy paints, oils and acrylics to photography and sculpture. The emotion in much of the artwork is powerful and runs the spectrum from joy to terror and anger. One piece, an oil pastel drawing titled “Terror in the Streets,” is reminiscent of the war-related atrocities in the Middle East. The drawing features masked men carrying guns and uses a variety of reds, oranges and blacks to depict and relate a sense of chaos and horror.

“All the art programs are in part with therapy,” Moore said. “Each group that’s involved in this focuses on different types of individuals. For example, the Veterans’ Administration’s art program focuses on those support groups, a lot of whom have trauma-related disabilities.”

The use of art as therapy has a long history. Art as a therapeutic mainstay is an established mental health technique that makes use of the creative process to improve and enhance the physical, mental and emotional well-being of individuals of all ages, according to the American Art Therapy Association, Inc. The belief is that by practicing art, people can develop interpersonal skills, regulate behavior and reduce stress.

The therapy appears to be doing the trick as far as the Florida Mental Health Institute is concerned. “Some of the artists are just thrilled to death that their pieces have been bought and people appreciate it,” Moore said. “When we have the ‘Meet the Artist’ receptions the artists are so happy to talk about their art. They’re just thrilled. It really gives them a lift.”

The exhibit, located at the Louis de la Parte Florida Mental Health Institute on campus, is open Monday through Friday 8 a.m. – 5 p.m., except on USF holidays.