Things Not Seen: Art and Healing through Narratives of Hope, Grief, Loss and Struggles for Self-Acceptance
In early part of 2019, my then partner Ann Collier, former Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychological Sciences and Clinical Psychologist in the Office of Employee Assistance and Wellness at NAU, approached me about a research project she wanted to conduct related to mental health and the visual arts. She planned to test her psychology students regarding their ability to interpret the visual image related to the topic of depression. In Fall 2019, I charged my advanced painting students to create works on the topic from their perspective and knowledge base. Approximately half of my students had personal experience with depression, either as someone grappling with the issue or as a caregiving to someone struggling with it.
In the summer of 2020, six months into the Covid pandemic in the US, Ann approached me again concerning a new project related to suicide awareness. Challenges caused our collaborative separation in Fall 2020, but not before we secured the Beasley Gallery as our first space for this undertaking. The first year of lockdown and the effect of it on the mental wellbeing of everyone was particularly difficult on the transition of young students in their social environments. Because I was no longer collaborating with Dr. Collier, I focused the topic on both suicide awareness and mental health and I did so from the perspective of the “artmaker”. As a faculty member in the School of Art, it was important to, not just see how viewers were responding to these artwork, but also how artists used their voices to convey personal narratives on these themes.
In order to provide a safe environment for students to create within, we partnered with Kim Kalas, Assistant Clinical Professor in Educational Psychology, and her practicum students in providing educational training and understanding regarding mental health and suicide awareness. Fall 2021/Spring 2022, students were given topic-driven assignments that allowed them to approach the subject through the following:
- those who are struggling from mental health issues
- those who have lost someone
- coping with loss
- hope, spirituality, or self-care
For any student triggered by topic, they were allowed to opted out of the assignment. Because of the many ways to tackle the subject, all my students participated in the project.
Creative Arts can use their respective voices to express a topic in their various mediums. Their individual and unique forms of expression provided an opportunity to seek out interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary collaborations. Various areas were contacted with creative writing, music, and Ethnic Studies providing ways for my students to interact and interpret differencing forms of expression. These collaboration can be found in each of the three spaces that encompass the Things Not Seen exhibition space.
I hope through our multi-spaced exhibitions that we give our respective communities a chance to open up and share their experiences as these brave students have shared their narratives. We are all connected.