Celebrating Creative Spirit, Sharing Experiences

Celebrating Creative Spirit, Sharing Experiences


Opening Reception

The opening reception for “Art Uniting People,” a celebration of creativity and mental health, will be Thursday, May 9, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Lee Center, 1108 Jefferson Drive in Alexandria. This year’s exhibit, which features the artwork of Northern Virginia artists of all ages, celebrates the creative spirit. The event will feature an interactive performance at 6:30 p.m. by storyteller Auntie Oyé, Master Drummer Joseph Ngwa & Friends. Light refreshments will be available. For more information, contact carrie.fesperman@....

Celebrating Children's Mental Health Awareness Day

There will be a Fun Fair in celebration of Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day, Saturday, May 11, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m., at the Tenants and Workers United Lot, 3801 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria. Enjoy games, prizes, arts & crafts, piñatas, and clowns at this event that promotes resiliency from birth to adulthood. Resource materials will be available.

Mental Health Forum On Children and Youth

A Mental Health Forum on Children and Youth, hosted by Del. Rob Krupicka, will be held Saturday, May 18, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Lee Recreation Center, 1108 Jefferson Drive, Alexandria. This community forum will feature an update on the mental health bills at this year’s General Assembly as well as panel discussions on mental health issues, services, and needs in Northern Virginia. Also attending will be other state elected officials and representatives from area Community Services Boards (Alexandria, Arlington, and Fairfax-Falls Church). Childcare will be provided for children ages 4 and up by advance registration to Donielle.Marshall.... For more information about the forum, contact Donielle.Marshall....

For the third year in a row, Alexandria will celebrate the connection between the creative spirit and mental health by displaying the art works of people whose lives have been affected by mental illness, substance abuse disorders or intellectual disabilities. Some of these works of art are playful, some stark, some beautiful, and some so sad and disturbing, they stop the viewer in his or her tracks. Through their pieces, these artists are sharing not only their hopes and dreams, but their pain and fear and their own personal stories. The telling of their stories is just part of what should be a community-wide conversation about mental health and the often long and bumpy road to recovery.

You will get a chance to see and hear those stories at the opening reception Thursday, May 9, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Lee Center, 1108 Jefferson St. The artists will be there along with their works ready to engage the viewer in conversation. The storytelling will continue with Storyteller Auntie Oye, master drummer Joseph Ngwa, drummer Yerone Sanders and dancer Diane Freeman as they interact with the audience through storytelling, dance and drumming in a performance beginning at 6:30 p.m.

In a written statement Vera Oye, founder and director of the Palaver Hut Inc., notes “In my African culture, storytelling is a participatory experience between the teller and listeners. I lost my community in Liberia to political strife and immigrated to escape the horrors of civil war in 1990. The creative power of storytelling and dance allowed me to share my culture and heritage with the residents of metropolitan Washington, D.C.”

She described the transformative power of storyteller saying: “I help to motivate and empower individuals to perform and share their stories. My greatest achievement to date has been traveling to Australia and interacting with Australia's indigenous people. Sharing our oral traditions through stories took us on each other's journeys.”

Now, more than ever, that sharing of experience, that conversation, needs to be heard as the Internet, the airwaves and even newspapers spread misinformation, hysteria and a portrait of those with mental illness as dangerous, out of control and incurable. Not true. Not even close. The math is simple. In one year there are about 31,000 deaths due to guns in this country, About a thousand are by the police, 20,000 suicides and 10,000 listed as homicides. In 2012, 151 of those homicides were committed by a mass murderer. That includes the deaths at Newtown. Even if all mass murderers could be considered mentally ill, and there is no proof of that, they account for only a very small percentage of the murderers in this country. Killing is more often fueled by too much alcohol, domestic violence, drug trafficking and other crime related violence. Those who have been diagnosed with mental illness are far more likely to be victims of crime than perpetrators, just as they are victims of stigma which prevents from getting treatment, getting employed and getting on with their lives.

Mental disorders are very common in the United States. In any given year, one in four adults have a mental disorder. The most common is anxiety with 18.1 percent of adults experiencing it. That is followed by a major depressive disorder, substance use disorders, bipolar disorder, eating disorders and rarest, schizophrenia. Prevention, early intervention and treatment can lessen the impact of these illnesses and recovery is possible. The sooner a person is diagnosed and receives the proper treatment, the sooner he or she is on the way to recovery.

Mental illness, intellectual disabilities and substance abuse disorders are serious impairments to a person's daily life as serious, real and biological as severe asthma, diabetes, heart disease or many other chronic diseases. Just as with any other chronic disease, those untreated get worse and more disabled as time goes by. Not intervening, not providing treatment increases disability and the chance of a premature death. Those with serious mental illnesses have a life expectancy 25 years less than those who are healthy.

The upcoming art exhibit showcases serious thought, deep reflection and the work of people who have something to say. But someone needs to be there to hear it and continue the conversation. They should not have the fate of those 19th and early 20th century outsider artists whose works were not even known until they died and their rooms and closets were cleaned out. No one thought they might have something to say and the talent to do it well.

For those who cannot make the reception or want a second viewing, the art will be up at the Lee Center until the end of the year. Then it will be moved to the Beatley Central Library, 5005 Duke St.