Nov. 11 art show displays beauty by people who live with mental illness

The soft sounds of 70s folk singer Gordon Lightfoot lilt from the old CD player. A classmate pulls a bottled water from the Clubhouse Recovery fridge, sits, and pages through a book of designs—deciding what art to create next. A few members of the group talk with the class instructor, JoAnn Brede, about finding jobs and how it can sometimes be a challenge just to get your foot in the door.

Debbie, 58, sets her brush down and pulls the strips of painter’s tape from her canvas, as other artists in Clubhouse Recovery group look on and encourage her. The results are a surprise even to her.

She’s created something beautiful.

A place to be together and make art

Debbie began attending the weekly Clubhouse Recovery art and activity classes hosted by Canvas Health on the advice of her therapist. “You know that ostrich who puts its head in the ground?” says Debbie. “That was me.”

But Clubhouse Recovery is more than just an art and activity class, explains Mike, 62, who has been attending these classes for the past five years. “This is just like a family here,” says Mike.

Mike enjoys woodworking and attends the classes in part because he loves the process of discovery.

“This class helps me learn a lot,” says Mike. “I learn, and I think about it. It teaches me. That’s why I love coming here. I love it.”

After five years attending the classes and with the kind of sunny personality that wants to reach out to others, Mike has become the defacto mayor of this place. He remembers when Debbie first came to the class five months ago—how shy she was.

Debbie nods her head, remembering.

“Because of my background, I wasn’t raised to have good self-esteem or self-worth,” explains Debbie. “I was verbally beaten down.”

Artwork had never been a fun for her—in fact, just the opposite. “Even coloring as a kid, it was always scary,” says Debbie. “I had a lot of negative self-talk.”

But she wanted things to change, so on the advice of her therapist, she attended her first Clubhouse Recovery art class, and then her second. For the first few classes, she hung back and didn’t say a word, but then she began to open up.

“It’s a safe place, so I felt that,” says Debbie.

Mike smiles. “I knew she liked it here,” he says.

A brighter canvas, a stronger community

JoAnn, who came out of retirement as a social worker two years ago to begin teaching these classes, has set the calm tone for the class. The artists are free to talk as much or as little as they want to about

themselves—they aren’t put on the spot or forced to share. They can create the art project of the week or create their own thing if they like. Or they can sit and relax. The important thing is community. Read more about how community activities and other outlets can help people cope with the everyday stress of life.

“Mike and JoAnn made it seem easy,” says Debbie. “They helped me a lot.” Debbie’s therapist says she’s seen changes in Debbie. Debbie has become more outgoing.

Now Debbie has a colorful canvas to show for her efforts.

That’s the fun part—the magic if you will—about painter’s tape artwork. You don’t really know what you have until the tape comes off, and the results are often surprisingly beautiful.

Somehow, it’s a fitting metaphor for the students in the Clubhouse Recovery art class, and the positive effects that have come in the lives of the attendees, just by being part of this community.

Please come and show your support of our Clubhouse Recovery artists by attending their annual art show from 1-3 p.m. on Nov. 11 at the ESR Building, 1778 Washington Ave., Stillwater, MN. Highlights of the event include door prizes, refreshments, a group art activity, and, of course, the chance to see the artwork of people in our community who are creating beauty while living with mental illness. Learn more here or by contacting JoAnn Brede at (612) 819-3161.