There are so many amazing stories about the healing power of art! Sarasvàti Productions’ new play script Breaking Through was created with this in mind. Our artists worked with people with lived experience, caregivers, mental health organizations, and the general public to collect experiences of mental health. It made sense as we prepared for staged readings of the play, to also gather the perspectives of artists in our community who live with mental health issues. We’ve been excited to interview artists about their experience with mental health, the stigmas they have encountered and the unique role art plays in their lives.
Quinn Whitlaw is a Winnipeg-based visual artist. He works mainly with ink and pencils and has been been creating more than ever over the past four months during his residency at ArtBeat Studio. It was only this past winter that Quinn re-discovered his love of drawing while he was in the hospital in recovery and treatment for Major Depressive Disorder and anxiety.
“I think there’s a lot of negative stigma around mental health and addiction problems. They really, really go hand in hand for a lot of people” said Quinn. He remembers feeling depression and anxiety beginning in grade 8. “I wouldn’t want to tell my friends because I wouldn’t want them to know about it. I wouldn’t want them feeling bad for me.”
Trying to cope has lead him to addiction problems throughout the years.
“People will look at someone that has mental health issue but is using drugs to deal with it and they’ll just think ‘he’s a druggie’ and ‘he’s no good’, when in actuality that’s the person’s only way out–the only way out of what they’re feeling ” said Quinn.
Quinn remembers liking to draw in grade 10. He hadn’t done it much since then, but Quinn took it up again while he was in the hospital because he had time on his hands. One of the hospital workers told Quinn about ArtBreat Studio, and he thought it sounded like a great idea.
ArtBeat Studio is a recovery-oriented program that is mental health consumer-initiated, and peer directed. It’s a community-based studio that accommodates artists whose mental health, social connection, and income make it impracticable for them, individually, to acquire a work space where they might advance their artistic technique safely and securely. Over a six-month period, nine artists are supported and mentored in managing their own workplace, production, and marketing within the operating parameters of the studio. Quinn is currently one of nine artists doing their residency at ArtBeat Studio.
“I think being an artist has given me a way out”, said Quinn, “when I feel down or am having a tough time I know that if I just sit down and start drawing everything will take a step back and I can focus on what I’m doing for once.”
We’ve spoken to a number of artists who describe creating and performing as therapeutic. For Quinn, drawing helps with his anxiety and depression,” Doing art puts me in a place where I can sit back and relax for a bit, which I can’t normally do” said Quinn. “You get a good feeling when you finish a piece of art. It feels good to accomplish something.”
Quinn is preparing to showcase his work this summer in ArtBeat Studio’s public exhibition. Although Quinn is looking forward to exhibiting his work, he admits that the stigma surrounding depression and anxiety prevents him from being more open about it.
“I still don’t really talk to anyone about it except for my doctor”, said Quinn. “It’s hard to come out and talk about it because you never know who’s going to understand and who’s going to tell you ‘just suck it up’”, said Quinn. “It’s hard because people don’t always understand, and at the same time you can’t expect them to know unless they’ve dealt with it themselves”, explained Quinn. “ I think the stigma is around being sad all the time, not having as much friends, not going out and living life like you should—which sometimes is true when you’re in such a down spot, but not all the time. There are little glimmers of light that come out once and a while, right?”
To find out more about ArtBeat Studio and their residency program visit artbeatstudio.ca. To see Quinn Whitlaw’s work in the flesh, and take in the work of all resident artists check out the exhibition at ArtBeat Studio from July 21- July 30.
Get your tickets to the staged reading of Sarasvati’s Breaking Through today!
May 22 & 28 at 3pm
May 24-27 at 7 pm
Asper Centre for Theatre and Film