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What can art tell us about mental health?

What can art tell us about mental health?

The Rochester Art Center’s new exhibition, "Mental Health: Mind Matters" opens this weekend with a mix of art, interactive exhibits — and a critical mission. Co-hosted by Mayo Clinic and presented by Olmsted Medical Center and the Rochester Area Foundation, “Mind Matters” is meant to raise awareness about mental health.

The mission gets a signal boost on Wednesday, May 29, courtesy of Minnesota Public Radio, which will air an episode of All Things Considered live from inside the RAC from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The episode is open to the public. After the episode, host Tom Crann will lead a panel about childhood trauma with several experts.

The Exhibition

The spotlight comes at a crucial time. In the U.S., close to 1 in 5 adults live with a mental illness, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That rate may be even higher locally. Olmsted County’s Community Health Needs Assessment found that in 2016, close to a third of all residents were experiencing a mental health condition.

“Mind Matters” takes a multi-pronged approach to educating people about mental health. Some aspects seek to define mental health, while others build empathy with activities that give participants a chance to be “in the shoes” of a person with depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Photos courtesy the Science Museum of Minnesota

The interactive portion of the exhibit come from a collaboration between the Science Museum of Minnesota and the Finnish Science Center, Heureka.

According to Bruce Sutor, M.D., a Mayo Clinic psychiatrist, the exhibition can also help connect people to mental health resources in the community. A NAMI-aided resource room on the second floor features a bevy of materials about getting support and treatment.

Local Art

Four regional artists were selected to show their work in the “Mind Matters” exhibition, each of them has had mental health issues touch their lives in one way or another.

The works range from paintings, like Bobby Marines’s “Mind Over Matters,” a reflection of his experiences with mental illness, to video installations like Melissa Borman’s “Storms are Part of Life At Sea.”

Artist Jess Hirsch took things outside the walls of the exhibit space by planting four gardens around Rochester, including one inside the RAC, which will include a telephone-based guided meditation.

There is even narrative art: pages from Christi Furnas’ graphic novel, Fox Foxerson: Adventures In Schizophrenia, are on display. They tell the story of a teddy bear comforting a fox who is experiencing an episode of depression. The comic ends not with a cure, but with a small smile, thanks to conversation and art.

“With mental illness, you’re out beyond the boundaries. When you do art, there’s less boundaries. I think sometimes when people are having trouble, art can help a lot for them to express themselves without being confined or cornered,” said Greg Wimmer, who worked with NAMI SE and students at Rochester Public Schools’ Alternative Learning Center on “Alone Together,” a large painting on display in the exhibition.

“Mind Matters” will be open to the public Tuesday through Saturday until September 10. Admission is $5 for adults. People 15 and younger are free. Tickets are available at the Rochester Art Center’s website, where you can also find upcoming events in conjunction with the exhibition.

To reserve a space at next week’s panel discussion, head over to this link.

Bryan Lund covers politics and culture for Med City Beat.

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