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The power of the arts for improving mental health

Whilst walking along Davie Street on the weekend my mind was hooked by the headline “Painting Saved My Life” and the image of an artist and his work on the front cover of the September issue of Megaphone magazine. As an Expressive Arts Therapist and an artist and musician myself, I can attest to the power of the arts for improving mental health so, naturally, I bought the magazine and dove into the nearest coffee shop to enjoy the article.

The piece is mainly an interview with artist Leef Evans and his experience learning how to manage periods of major depression which historically would have resulted with him needing to be hospitalized. When Evans arrived in Vancouver he connected with Coast Mental Health’s services on Seymour Street and, primarily, started to use the Art Room. This is an open studio space facilitated by volunteer artists and art educators who support members to develop their creative skills and express themselves through visual arts (painting, drawing, sculpting, etc).

In the past, Evans has also been a writer and published poet. However, as he says, “to write well takes a certain internal exploration that is exhausting and it always takes me to a bad place.” In contrast, painting supports him to take his attention outside of himself and into the views of Vancouver that interest and inspire him. In this process, he sees himself as an observer and recorder of life around him, and he describes his paintings as “anti-autobiographical”. For Evans, it is the making of art that is healing for him, rather than the telling of his own story.

The Art Room offers a place where creative skills can be learned and developed, but, equally importantly, it is a place where member artists can socialize and become part of a supportive community.

Evans’ work is part of a collective art show. Details can be found here.

In addition to my copy of Megaphone Magazine ($2) I also bought a copy of “Aspirations: Voices of the Street 2019” ($10), a beautiful and profound literary collection of reflections on life written by people experiencing poverty, marginalization, homelessness, and the ongoing effects of colonization. Highly recommend!

– Shared by Dr. Keith Thurlow-Bishop, a Registered Clinical Counsellor and Expressive Arts Therapist at Covenant House Vancouver