Studio for mentally ill gets funds

Funding helps staff to focus on ‘real work,’ studio founder says

Artbeat Studio founder Nigel Bart is happy about the provincial government’s decision to give the studio an additional $50,000 in funding. Antoinette Dyksman

A $50,000 grant awarded to a non-profit arts centre is helping to ensure mentally ill people can keep healing through holistic means.

Artbeat Studio, located in the city’s Exchange District, was given the provincial funding last month. The money was welcomed by founder Nigel Bart.

“We do have a waiting list, and in order to concentrate on helping people recover through art, we can’t solely be focused on applying for money and relying on donations because it detracts from the real work of helping people,” Bart said.

The money will be used for an endowment fund, which is intended to keep Artbeat afloat for years to come. The studio needs permanent financial security in order to provide maximum assistance to those in need. The long waiting list reflects the positive influence the studio is having and demonstrates that there is a need for it in the community.

The studio, which takes on nine artists every six months, provides workspace, supplies and mentoring. It offers a unique program that is tailored to the needs of its participants. A wide variety of media are covered, including painting, pottery and jewelry making. The studio is open Tuesday through Saturday and the artists can come and go as they please.

It’s the focus on self-worth through artistic exploration that makes Artbeat stand out from other healing methods, Bart said. An artistic community is fostered in which each individual becomes an integral component.

“This has absolutely been the biggest changing factor in my life,” said Megan Brown, an alumna of the program. “I was actually pretty sick before I started the program. I had my one and only hospital stay shortly before this.”

“The purpose I got from going into the program really changed the way I saw myself, and life, in general.”

Now an accomplished jewelry artist, Brown had experimented with paints before going to Artbeat, but she said it was her acceptance into the program that really marked the beginning of her artistic career. The sense of belonging and purpose she acquired while at the studio has allowed her to overcome many of the obstacles she faced as a young woman suffering from bipolar disorder.

“For a while it hasn’t been that much of a factor. I’ve become fairly well adjusted but it can be harder on some people than on others,” the 23-year-old said.

Bart himself was diagnosed with schizophrenia at age 19. Soon after he discovered a love of pottery while working in his mother’s studio. He quickly found that creating pottery helped him deal with the illness. Realizing that others could benefit from the healing power of art, Bart envisioned creating an art rehabilitation centre. In 2005, this became a reality.

Kerri Irvin-Ross, the provincial minister who announced the additional funding, said she believes that both physical and mental activity are important.

“I try and stress the holistic approach to health. It’s about physical activity, but it’s also about mental well-being. We need a culture that stresses the arts, whether it’s at the recreational or professional level.”

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