Decked out with a stage for live musical performances and poetry readings, the Mental Health Association of Santa Barbara hosted its 17th annual arts festival in De La Guerra Plaza on Saturday, October 2. The event celebrated the healing power of creativity as local artists and MHA staff displayed their paintings, sculptures, and homemade jewelry and crafts.
The Mental Health Association of Santa Barbara is a private, nonprofit organization that provides housing, advocacy, and counseling to adults and families affected by mental illness. MHA also provides education and awareness to the community at large about their cause.
Since its inception in 1947, MHA serves 250-300 clients and 500 families annually, according executive director to Annmarie Cameron. In 2008, MHA opened its doors to a new facility on Garden Street, the Recovery Learning Center at the Fellowship Club, which houses 51 clients. Of the new lodging facilities, 38 are designated for clients who are diagnosed with a mental illness.
The Recovery Learning Center is Santa Barbara’s sole rehabilitation and social center that provides a venue for companionship, education, recreation and self-help, said Cameron. The Recovery Learning Center is also a site for art classes—some even taught by the clients themselves.
Lesley Grogan is one of the clients that teach peer-to-peer art classes and showcased her paintings, jewelry, and sculptures at the festival. From decorative beading to making jewelry and painting masterpieces, Grogan lends herself to the organization as a valuable teacher. She also volunteers at Jodi House, a nonprofit that provides day programming for those who suffered from brain injuries.
“My art calms me, quiets the voices, and provides me with a more tranquil focus for my mind,” Grogan said in a written statement. “My life would be entirely different without art.”
Also present at the festival was Rodger Casier, who showcased his art all 17 years of the festival. According to Casier, it was because of him that the festival came to fruition in the first place. He said a painting of his that hung in MHA’s group meeting room gave a case manager the idea to begin the festival.
A graduate of San Marcos High School and SBCC, Casier’s works were published various times. He has even landed the cover of many magazines, journals and medical publications, such as Schizophrenia Bulletin, Behavioral Health, and Progress Magazine.
“Creative expression gets my mind off of my illness, my voices,” Casier said. “When I exhibit or sell my work, I find acceptance and praise, which does a lot for my ego and actually helps me cope.” Casier was diagnosed with a schizo-affective disorder, a combination of depression and schizophrenia, while attending San Jose State University.
Grogan and Casier, along with Trinaty Lopez-Wakefield, are artists that were featured in Justin Rowe’s film, Crazy Art. This documentary follows them as they cope with schizophrenia and find solace in art therapy. Crazy Art premiered in the 2010 Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
“The importance of this day is that people not only get to showcase their talents but also their other identity,” said Cameron. “Mental illness is not one’s identity. It’s not who you are—it’s something you live with. Art therapy gives a chance to cope with this illness.”