Art as Awareness

Western Montana Mental Health Center to host May 19 art show featuring client art for sale as part of Mental Health Awareness Month

Many different types of people pass through the hallways at Western Montana Mental Health Center; it’s a place for healing, for learning, and for coping.

It’s also a place full of natural light and low sounds, where a community gathers to be in an environment free of stigma or judgment. People visit each day to take part in the day treatment program and vocational services, where ideas are welcomed and creativity is inspiration.

It makes sense, then, that the center is also a bastion of artistic expression. Hanging on the walls are pieces — watercolor, acrylic, pencil and pen — all from the hands and minds of the clients.

“They produce all of this beautiful art,” Ron Fournier, the adult day treatment program manager, said of his clients. “This program is just taking off.”

On May 19, WMMHC will host a Stomp the Stigma art show featuring the work of clients and allowing the public to buy them. The show, called and themed, “Sunrises and Sunsets,” will run from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.

It’s all part of the movement to remove the stigma surrounding mental health and its various treatments during National Mental Health Awareness Month in May, Fournier said. In previous years, the center hosted a Stomp the Stigma 5K but switched gears this year to an art show.

Already, about $1,800 to $2,000 worth of client art has been sold, he said. After repaying the small framing cost, the client keeps the profit.

Sharon Cowan has been teaching and leading art sessions for about four years, and she said the art program was largely under-developed when she started. Now, art sessions are offered four days a week to the clientele, and there’s a monthly budget of $75.

“We’ve turned it into more of an art group,” Cowan said.

It’s a popular activity among clients, Fournier said, including those in the crisis-stabilization house. Some people might end up there in the midst of a crisis, paint during their stay, and don’t want to keep their art when they leave, he said. That was the beginning of the center’s permanent collection, which is still being built.

Client art will also be the focus of WMMHC’s new administration building in Missoula. It will serve not only as beautiful décor, but also as a reminder of whom the administration is working to serve, Fournier said.

In a recent art class, The Rolling Stones provided background music as clients worked on brilliant sunrises and sunsets. Cowan said there’s only one rule in her class: “Be kind.”

“I always try to steer them toward making something beautiful instead of trying to make something perfect,” Cowan said. “For that little while that they’re painting in there, they’re not thinking about their problems.”

For the May 19 event, the whole center will open up to the public, allowing them to see the facilities as well as the art. It will also include a silent auction, the proceeds of which will go toward bolstering the art department’s budget.

Anyone interested in the art program or the myriad other programs offered can go to the WMMHC, fill out paperwork, and meet with a mental health provider. On open access days – Tuesdays from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m. and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. – a client can receive same-day walk-in appointments for treatment and care. The center accepts Medicaid, Medicare, Veteran’s Administration and private insurances, and has a sliding scale for payment.

Cowan said she was excited for the upcoming art show, because she’s thrilled to share with the public all the talent and focus that has been hanging on the walls of these hallways.

“They’re very proud,” Cowan said. “It’s fun to see.”

Western Montana Mental Health Center in Kalispell provides a multitude of services at both its adult mental health center and its child- and family-based Stillwater Therapeutic Services, located respectively at 410 Windward Way and 418 Windward Way. For more information, visit www.wmmhc.org or call 406-257-1336.

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