Free “Artability” workshops give participants access to the arts

The program offers those struggling with mental illness an opportunity to express themselves.

Sarah Mai

Sarah Mai

by Ksenia Gorinshteyn

Creating art can be a great way to de-stress, whether it’s painting calming blues on a canvas or writing out thoughts in a journal. The process can also be a great way to cope with mental illness, especially alongside others who may be going through the same thing. 

Artability is a free art program offered through the nonprofit People Incorporated, with new workshops every weekend at the Huss Center for Recovery. It offers people age 18 and over struggling with a mental illness the opportunity to try their hand at different art mediums.

“Art allows people to express themselves and try something new, maybe stretch themselves to experience something that they weren’t sure if they could do,” said Corilyn Wagner, Artability’s programming coordinator.

The workshops include printmaking, watercolor and acrylic painting classes and more. Each workshop is led by a teaching artist from the community.

All of the materials are provided for free and participants don’t need to bring documentation of a mental health diagnosis to attend.

“When people come to our workshops, I hope they feel supported,” Wagner said. “I hope they feel like it’s an environment where they can play with the materials and take time for themselves in a way that they may not get to always do.”

Participants of the program have said that Artability relieves symptoms of stress for them and makes them feel less lonely, all the while advancing their art skills.

“My motivation is knowing the way I’ve made my own progress artistically,” said Mike Conroy, Artability’s primary watercolor teacher and participant of the program. “I’ve grown a little bit artistically, and I want to help people do that as well.”

Each workshop is meant to be at a beginner level, with opportunities for more skilled participants to try something new, too. Artability also aims to make it a space to channel emotions, but at the same time, it’s not a requirement to discuss your mental health.

“It’s not so much that we would encourage artists to succeed at doing art and then have them respond to us from a mental health standpoint,” Conroy said. “It’s more about teaching them art and finding out their skills and then going from there.”

In addition to the weekend workshops, Artability hosts an annual art show, where artists who struggle with mental illness can display and sell their art. 

“The art show is really helping them bring their art to a level where they can make it part of living independently,” said Erin Erickson, the nonprofit’s communications and marketing specialist. “This can be part of their identity and what they do as an individual. It’s not about their mental health diagnosis.”

The Artability art show will celebrate its 25-year anniversary this fall and display over 400 pieces of work made by 100 artists.

“It’s all about making sure we can let our artists shine,” Erickson said. “This is really an evening that honors them and highlights their successes and helps elevate their art to the next level.”

Being a participant of the Artability workshops is not required to send in art for the show. They see artists put their struggles behind them when they walk through the door and enjoy the fact that others are enjoying their art, too.

“That is a whole other level of recovery independence,” Erickson said. “And being able to see that you can be so much more than your mental health diagnosis.”

For the past 25 years, Artability has been a space where participants can learn new skills to cope with their mental illnesses, and they wish to continue this work for the next 25 years, too. 

“I’m always just so impressed that so many people choose to take their Saturday afternoon and set aside intentional art making time,” Wagner said. “That shows so much strength in that person that they’re bringing into the world.”

What: 2019 Artability Art Show and Sale

When: Oct. 25, 4 – 8 p.m., Oct. 26-27, 11 a.m. –  2:30 p.m.

Where: The Show Gallery Lowertown, 346 N. Sibley St., St. Paul