Housed in a basement art studio in Avivo’s Minneapolis Community Support Program, we organize together as the Avivo Artworks Collective. If you ask us who we are, we would say we are artists – first and foremost. What brings us together is the goal to create community so that we can support one another. Our mission statement reads, “As a collective of artists, we embrace diversity, build community and present publicly. In doing so, we are challenging mental health stigma, and demonstrating that people living with mental illness can achieve success in art and life. We also aim towards building personal leadership, encouraging individuality, and supporting one another in our lives and in recovery.”
So why organize as an art collective? An art collective is a body of artists who come together to organize under a shared initiative. Collectives often serve as self-created, self-identified resources to the artists involved. Coming together ultimately creates an important and relevant career and mission-focused social group. Our collective is the heart of the Avivo Art- Works (formerly Spectrum ArtWorks), which it was founded upon in 2004. “Avivo ArtWorks taught me how art and creativity can define who you are,” a collective member recently voiced about their time in the group. “I’ve learned about people, kindness, self-control, empathy, and commitment.” Art collectives form for a variety of reasons, and we find that this quote alone expresses what we hope being in the collective can do for someone.
In our shared art studio at Avivo ArtWorks, we usually work at our individual stations, spending time on our own projects. The perk is that we are around others who are doing a similar activity. Many of us have been in the collective for years, because it’s just good self care. Because we are located in a Community Support Program, which is basically a community center, we also have access to a host of other resources such as activities, health coaching, and support groups. It’s a holistic approach to overall wellness that we value.
We are all part of the collective for our own reasons. Essentially, though, we want to be part of a group and be connected to other artists. Here we share with you some of our own reasons:
I am an artist managing schizoaffective disorder. My mother encouraged my art making as far back as my memory goes. My illness began as I was graduating with a BA in Arts and Sciences from the University of North Dakota.
The Avivo ArtWorks Collective has a lot of non-verbal weavings of inspiration. Synchronicity enthusiasts, professional connections, and lasting friendships are all part of belonging to this community.
I enjoy making vulnerable lines and let them incubate on a shelf for a period of time. Later I shade up these lines with colors. This is addictive.
Peter F. Hinze
I work in many different mediums. My first love was watercolor painting, which I began to study at about age 15.
I do not like doing art by myself at home. It feels very isolating to me. Being in the art collective makes all the difference in world. In 2011, I became a member and do most of my work in our shared studio space. I find the support of the other artists, all of whom are living with a mental illness, very helpful. Expressing my emotions and my creativity through art has been a vital part of my recovery; it allows me to connect with others in a way that goes beyond words.
When I am working on a piece of art that I am really invested in, I get into it. It helps me stay focused and in the present. This keeps me from thinking about past things or worrying about the future. Doing, thinking about, and reading about art and artists reduces my stress, too. For example, in a book I recently read about Charles Pollack by Terence Maloon, the author refers to art as a “form of communion, as a momentary release from the affliction of loneliness, as a intermittent overcoming of alienation, as a kind of transcendence.” I deeply relate to this enlightening and validating statement.
I have been a drawer and painter for about 50 years. I started drawing at the age of five with pencils. I like working with other artists in a creative atmosphere. I come to the studio about two days a week, when I don’t have to work. Art and community have brought me healing by helping me be involved with others. Being social inspires me to be more creative and do more art. I am making friends and am involved in arts shows, art projects, and I go on art outings. My time in the studio with others is positive.
My art has always brought healing through good times and bad. I remember when I was in the hospital with depression and how art classes helped me. It gives me a purpose in life. It gives me fulfillment. It takes time to make art and it is satisfying to finish a piece of art, especially when other artists comment on my artwork. I wouldn’t get that feedback if I was doing my art alone.
I like to draw every day – in the morning and evenings. It helps me manage the stress in my life. I hope that my art provides larger healing for others as I tend to create landscapes and abstract images that are soothing, nature based, and meditative.
I am and always have been an artist; a new creation everyday, myself a canvas. I have lived and breathed art since I was able to create any shape, sound, or color. Like a ballet choreographed, practiced over the over again.
My photography gives me peace as I walk around and look for art to be my subject. I use it as a way to show viewers how I interpret the world around me. I keep a sketchbook with me, along with my camera. I also like to “fast paint” for instant gratification.
Being part of a collective gives strength to our voices. We are working against the stigma of mental illness. We get to share and learn from each other as we create art, which is part of maintaining our mental health.
Art is what unites us, but it is the initiative to end mental health stigma that connects us to our larger community. Stigma can make someone feel fear, shame, and hopelessness around living with a mental illness. Stigma can stop someone from reaching out and connecting with others. This ultimately can cause someone to isolate and not get the help they need. The National Alliance on Mental Illness encourages the following nine ways to fight mental health stigma: talk openly about mental health, educate yourself and others, be conscious of language, encourage equality between physical and mental illness, show compassion for those living with mental illness, choose empowerment over shame, be honest about treatment, let the media know when they are being stigmatizing, and don’t harbor self-stigma.
Each step towards creating a stigma-free society matters. Will you work on challenging stigma, too? Together we can band as one collective voice. Together we can thrive. Together we can heal.