It was cold outside on a recent Tuesday morning, but the Green Run Collegiate (GRC) art room was hot with activity. International Baccalaureate (IB) Visual Art students were busy producing pieces of work to complement an exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). The exhibition “MIND-FUL, Exploring Mental Health through Art,” looks at current mental health issues along with contemporary artists’ responses to those issues.
“What I’ve learned is that one in five people suffer from some form of mental illness,” said Shamari Grey, a GRC Senior. “It’s a much more common problem that we didn’t know about.”
The project did not begin in an art studio, rather, it started in a classroom.
“The National Alliance for Mental Health (NAMI) visited GRC in the fall and gave a presentation about mental health and the societal issues surrounding treatment, services and societal stigma,” shared Erika Hitchcock, GRC art teacher.
Students heard firsthand experiences surrounding the effects and struggles that these illnesses have on individuals, families and society. Then they turned to MOCA for inspiration.
“We’ve been fortunate to partner with MOCA for projects in all four years of our existence,” said Hitchcock. “The museum displaying the effects of mental illness in this exhibition, provided an opportunity for our students to create and display all that they have learned.”
To gain inspiration for their project, the young artists visited the MOCA exhibition.
Ellie Langford, a senior at GRC was taken by how many forms of mental illness exist.
“At MOCA, it was nice to see the many different cases of mental illness,” she said. “One person looking into someone else.”
The students hope that their artwork will display what they have learned about mental illness.
“I learned that mental illness, it is important to talk about it, because it’s more of a shared experience than you think it is,” said GRC senior Kiara Ramos. “It’s a very intimate issue, but I feel that it is something that we should talk about more often.”
GRC School counselor Lauren Gipson says that this project reflects the school’s commitment to real world experiences and service learning.
“It also shows that our students are concerned by serious issues in our society. No one chooses to be afflicted with a mental illness. These individuals should be treated with regard and respect. Hopefully, their artwork will help people better understand the challenge of those facing stigma.”
The student’s opening exhibit is part of an event at MOCA designed to raise awareness of mental health in the community. A Mindful Night: Youth Panel Discussion is set for Wednesday, April 5, 6-8:30 p.m. The student artwork will be on display through the month of April.
For more information about mental illness and local resources and programs visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Virginia Beach.