Art of RecOVery

David Diana, the community education and outreach director of Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Center speaks to the artists and attendees of The Art of Recovery. This Piccolo Spoleto event gives back to the artists who all suffer from mental disorders.

"I have borderline personality disorder, and have had it for about a year," said Ashley Frazier, who is very open about discussing her medical challenges.

She has turned to art as a form of therapy.

"When you are trying to recover from mental illness, you are so down because of the stigma of it," Frazier said. "But when people say something is beautiful, it makes a difference. It's part of you. It brings me up and helps with self-esteem."

For Frazier and others like her, creativity has become more than just making art. And an exhibition organized by the South Carolina Department of Mental Health for the Piccolo Spoleto Festival called "The Art of Recovery" draws attention to the way art can assist the mentally ill.

One of Frazier's works will be featured among the more than 80 pieces by 37 South Carolina artists. Participants in the show all are recovering from mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders. The exhibition consists primarily of drawings and paintings.

"Art is an invaluable, an incredible tool to teach people that there's no stigma attached to mental illness," said Tracy LaPointe, public information coordinator for the Department of Mental Health. "Those folks are reaching out just like anyone else would. They have illnesses that are just like other illnesses and they need treatment and they need to stay healthy."

Most of the artwork is for sale, and proceeds go directly to the artists, some of whom are professional, some of whom are self-taught, LaPointe said.

"About 60 percent of people who have mental illnesses don't ever seek or receive treatment," said David Diana, director of community education and outreach for the Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Center, who coordinated the exhibition. "A lot of them are just suffering from silence. This exhibit is to bring awareness to mental health. It's meant to talk about the resilience and celebrate the human spirit," he said.

Frazier created her work, titled "States of Mind," using colored pencils, during a group therapy session. She never thought it would be included in "The Art of Recovery."

"I feel really focused on what I'm doing when I paint," she said.

Patty Chrysostom, Mental Health Clinician at the Charleston Dorchester Mental Health Center said that many people dealing with mental illness learn not to express themselves.

"They hide their true feelings," she said. "They learn that sharing what they have is to be responded to with dismissive negativity. Not being able to express themselves adds to the illness." Making art helps because visual expression is less likely to be judged critically, she said. "It's a safe medium."

The "Art of Recovery" will be on view 11 a.m.-7 p.m. through June 8 at Circular Congregational Church, 150 Meeting St. The show is free.

The Gibbes Museum of Art will host "The Art of Healing: Artist Conversation" 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m. June 2. This is a separate event but related thematically. The panel - artist John Westmark, Gibbes curator Pam Wall and Roper St. Francis surgeon Jeb Hallett - will discuss how emotion, experience and surroundings impact the creative process.

The event is presented in conjunction with the Gibbe's show "John Westmark: Narratives," and continues a series of similar conversations designed to explore the impact of art. The Gibbes Museum is located at 135 Meeting St. Tickets are $25.

Anita Xu is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.