Art as Therapy

Mental Health Arts Festival Celebrates Creativity

Robert Keeler's "Mission".

More than 70 artists spread their artwork across De la Guerra Plaza last Saturday for Mental Health Arts Festival, using their paintings, sculpture, knitting, jewelry, and performance arts to combat the stigma that often surrounds mental illness.

Now in its 16th year, the event is hosted by the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County, a non-profit organization which supports adult community members living with mental illness, as well as their families. The annual arts festival coincides with National Mental Illness Awareness Week, which has been celebrated during the first week of October each year since 1990. The purpose of the week is to increase public awareness and to dismantle negative stereotypes about severe mental illnesses including depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.

Rodger Casier's "Self Portrait".

Darcy Keep, Chair of the Mental Health Arts Festival, praised the event for encouraging the artists’ creativity, calling it “an outlet that helps people with mental illness deal with their feelings.” Keep said many of the artists look forward to the event all year and that it is an opportunity for them to interact with the community as productive and creative individuals. The artists see the event as a huge success, she said, and appreciate the chance to talk about their work. She applauded the broad array of artistic styles at this year’s event, saying it featured everything from bizarre creative pieces to fine art that could be hanging in a museum.

Mental Health Arts Festival Celebrates Creativity
Courtesy Photo

Saturday was the twelfth time James DeVoe displayed his art at the Mental Health Arts Festival. He calls his art – this year: handmade jewelry – a therapeutic and a creative outlet. Jane Kinkade, another veteran of the festival who showcased her work beside DeVoe’s, agreed that creating her art is therapeutic, adding that she feels privileged to be involved. Kinkade writes poetry and this year for the first time designed and printed cards of her abstract paintings. “Besides selling my art,” she said, “it’s exciting to be a part of the event with everyone in the community.” She wasn’t always an artist, Kinkade said, but realized her talent and art’s healing effects when she took part in an art group a number of years ago.

"Helping Hands of the Therapist".

Kimberly Leonard participated in the event for the first time this year, showing her unique, intricate hanging origami sculptures. She considers her art a major part of her recovery, something to keep her “focused and on track.” An occupational therapist learned of Leonard’s talent and recommended that she take part in the event. Leonard makes her sculptures from found objects like maps and rubber bracelets, plus items she uncovers at Art from Scrap. She constructed one memorable sculpture from the pages of a psychiatry textbook and prescription medication bottles.

Mental Health Arts Festival
Courtesy Photo

Annmarie Cameron, Executive Director of the Mental Health Association, said in a press release, “Stigma is a major barrier to people seeking help with their mental illness when they need it, and that is why education is so important.” The people who attended Saturday’s festival learned that people living with mental illness will not be defined by an unfortunate stigma. They are as diverse and radiant as the art they create. The event celebrates the talents of a group of people who, as a group, are not often celebrated. As Cameron said, “The Mental Health Arts Festival not only helps raise awareness, but it also gives our participants a time to creatively express themselves in unique and beautiful ways and to share that directly with our community.”


To learn more about the Mental Health Arts Festival or the Mental Health Association in Santa Barbara County, call 884-8440 or visit


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