In Spring of 2019, The Main Place did a collaboration project with Denison University in neighboring Granville, Ohio. During this project, journalism students in the English 221 course during Spring Semester 2019 wrote stories about several different organizations in Newark, Ohio such as The Main Place, The Boys and Girls Club, and The Newark Think Tank on Poverty. Here’s one of those stories.
By Emily Martin
As I scanned the walls of the art room in the Main Place, my eyes were almost overwhelmed with the multitude of vibrant artwork that filled the bare white surface: each one different than the next, some colorful self-portraits, others simply black and white landscapes, and many unique abstract pieces in between. All of them painted by a member of the Main Place community.
The Main Place prides itself on being a “consumer-operated mental health recovery center that promotes recovery through peer support, social activities, education and training” in Newark, Ohio (“The Main Place”). From walking groups to comedy-themed support sessions, the Main Place has an activity fit for anyone. But one of the most popular recovery activities is art.
Art therapy, which is understood to be “the therapeutic use of art making within a professional relationship by people who experience illness, trauma or challenges in living”, in the form of painting, sculpture, photography, and other visual arts, is widely utilized by occupational therapists (Haeyen et al, 2015). According to the British Journal of Occupational therapy, professionals use this method to promote” the therapeutic relationship” and enhance the “communication and self-expression” of the patient (Lloyd and Papas, 1999).
“Recovery can be boring unless you jazz it up,” Donna Wayt, the infamous art teacher, said as I helped her set up for her next class. With a long flowy skirt, a huge tousled bun at the top of her head and a thin braid escaping from the nape of her neck, she embodied the characteristics of a stereotypical artist. Wayt reminisced about the times she would doodle in her notebook during AA meetings and how this helped her focus and be present. She soon found the Main Place and attended the art class for the first time about 5 years ago. The healthcare providers and resources at the Main Place guided Donna to her diagnosis and treatment for bipolar disorder. She explained how it was and still is “easier for [her] to express herself through art than to talk about” her mental health issues. Not only did the art class at the Main Place offer Donna a space for recovery and expression, but it inspired her to find her passion and help others do the same.
As each student entered into the studio, she made sure to welcome them by name and get them set up for the project they wanted to work on that day. While Scott meticulously painted his Star Trek space-ship models, Sam, a new member, used watercolors to paint a book. John, a quiet and organized man, used colored pencils to work on a few drawings.
Across the table, Victor, a longtime student, spent his time making a necklace out of large turquoise beads, as he chatted with Donna about his art show at a local café. Like many other members, when he first came to the Main Place, he didn’t think the art class was for him.
“I don’t know how to do that,” he said.
“I can’t do that,” he thought.
Now, as he proudly explained the details of his artwork that were being displayed for the whole Newark community to see, his face lit up. The art class gave a platform for not just recovery but granted him a new sense of confidence and purpose.
While most forms of therapy involve structured classes and conversations about the issues at hand, Donna explains how art therapy at the Main Place is where people “have a space where you can be as weird as you want to be” and express your feeling freely. The class isn’t about a final product or becoming a really good artist. It is about self-discovery and working to understand the meanings and connections in your life (“Creativity and Recovery…”).
Without any rules. Without judgment.
Unlike other forms of treatment and recovery, here you don’t need a therapist to access the therapeutic benefits that artistic expression yields. Research shows that the act of creating art stimulates the release of dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter in the brain that makes you feel happier (Zaidel). Anyone, no matter where they are or what resources they have available, can access this “feel-good” effect that art offers. Studies also show that creating art in a group setting, like the art class at the Main Place, can help individuals build relationships and foster connections with other people (“Creativity and Recovery…”).
Most of the people that come into The Main Place are suffering from mental disorders such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or severe depression and substance abuse. While the Main Place offers numerous classes and groups that can help in the recovery and treatment process of many mental illnesses and addiction, many of these complex issues are difficult to talk about during the recovery process. Art provides an alternative non-verbal pathway.
Clinical art therapy sessions are often expensive not covered by insurance, which leaves this resource out of reach to those who live in poverty. The Main Place is the exception. Their art class is completely free to anyone who walks in the doors. No experience needed. No questions asked. All you need is the willingness to put yourself out there and try something new.