Photograph by Nick Bowersox

Local artist Paula Ionescu, whose work is featured in this year's Art of Mental Health exhibit, says painting helps her cope with depression. Her work is part of the exhibit organized by Centerstone, a community mental health provider, that is on display in City Hall through the end of July.

As Paula Ionescu explains the themes behind her paintings on display at City Hall, she can’t help but smile. Her art utilizes the colors of spring, the time of the year she enjoys most. One of her pieces, “Daffodil,” depicts her favorite flower. But as vibrant as her paintings are, Ionescu hasn’t always been in such good spirits.

Her paintings are the result of art therapy sessions held by Centerstone, an organization that provides mental health and addiction services to more than 18,000 Indiana residents annually. Ionescu says the paintings, which are being displayed as part of this year’s Centerstone “Art of Mental Health” exhibition, have aided in coping with depression. She is not the only person who has found relief in the unconventional sessions.

Shallus Quillen, another Centerstone artist, says the sessions have helped reduce her anxiety. Quillen, who engaged self-destructive activities, says the Centerstone art sessions are the only effective form of therapy she has found. Becoming involved with the sessions has been “the best thing ever,” because it has given her an alternative to self-harm. “It’s easier to paint than hurt myself,” she says.

Centerstone’s art therapy sessions allow members to create art in a non-critical environment with the intent of promoting both artistic and emotional growth. “The art helps uncover issues people are unable to articulate in other ways,” Centerstone’s Cathi Norton says.

Photograph by Nick Bowersox

Cathi Norton, media relations coordinator at Centerstone, is one of the Art of Mental Health originators.

Norton, Centerstone’s media relations coordinator, helped create the “Art of Mental Health” project with the goal of helping others understand the healing properties of art. The project, which has historically used art by Centerstone artists to create calendars and notecards, is a collaborative endeavor that aims to incorporate other organizations related to mental health into its activities.

The project’s current exhibition, which will be on display at City Hall until the end of July, features 43 pieces of art from more than 20 Centerstone artists. They had two months to create pieces relating to the exhibition’s theme, “America.” The art at the showcase ranges from a caricature of former President George W. Bush to a painting of a butterfly, each expressing an artist’s interpretation of the theme.

For Ionescu, her paintings of spring landscapes and flowers represent the regard for nature in America she did not experience in her birthplace of Romania. “You feel that nature is respected here,” she says.

Quillen’s paintings feature iconic American symbols representing freedom, something she consider synonymous with America. “It was easy for me to really get into the theme,” she says.

Quillen’s enthusiasm is not a surprise to Norton, who says the Centerstone artists have responded well to displaying their work in the exhibition. “They are able to realize they have value through their art by exhibiting it,” she says.

Photograph by Nick Bowersox

Forty-three works of art created by Centerstone clients make up this year's exhibit.

With the “America” exhibition nearing its end, Centerstone members are looking toward the next event to display their artwork. This October, the “Art of Mental Health” will work alongside Mental Health America Monroe County on a dance titled “Dance the Blues Away.” The event, which will include live music, workshops and screenings relating to mental health, will feature new artwork from Centerstone members.

As “The Art of Mental Illness” continues to be an avenue for Centerstone artists to display their work, Norton says a major aspect of the project is educating the public through interaction alongside those with mental illness. The exhibitions are a tremendous force to reduce the stigma of mental illness in the community, she says. “Art is a wonderful way to bridge the gap between those who have mental illnesses and those who don’t.”

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