Two decades ago, Carol Brashares of Reston, 63, took an art class and began painting as a way of dealing with her postpartum depression.“I got lost in the artwork, and didn’t think of anything else but my painting,” she said.
Today, by her own count, Brashares has produced more than 100 works of art, some of which are currently on display as part of the Northwest Center’s Project In-Sight in Reston.
The project is an annual art exhibit presented by those who take part in mental health services within the Northwest Center. Northwest is one of the local area centers served by the Fairfax-Falls Church Community Services Board, the public agency that plans, organizes and provides local services for area residents with mental illness, substance use disorders, and/or intellectual disabilities.
This is the art project’s sixth year. Artworks in various media are submitted for the exhibit by patients, their families and Northwest Center staff. Artists represented in the exhibit range in age from four to 64. Many of the more than 100 displayed works are created by teens enrolled in the Northwest Teen Alternative Program who participate in counseling, rehabilitative services, and schooling at the center. Project In-Sight was the brainchild of creator Dan Bowman, a former mental health supervisor who worked at the Northwest Center for 25 years, and retired in March.
“I got the idea one day when I was at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, which displays untrained artists, many of whom are mentally ill,” he said. “I came back with the idea that we could have a similar exhibit ourselves.”
Bowman said the first year of the exhibit displayed less than half the number of works that are there today. “It has grown to take on a life of its own,” he said. “And to me, these works are better than many commercial or professional works. They are artistic expressions of some very real and often traumatic or tragic issues that are very relevant in many people’s lives today.”
Belinda Buescher, communications director for the Community Services board, agrees.
“Many of the works depict such raw emotion and intense expression,” she said “There’s an intimacy and poignancy about them that reflects the nature of the work we do at the CSB.”
Sharon Watson, a Northwest Center clinician, says there is yet another benefit derived from them.
“These artworks enable our clients to express themselves in a nonverbal form that is both therapeutic and at the same time allows them to show a different side of themselves,” she said. “Many of these artists are often identified as being mentally ill, but that is not the sum total of who they are. That is not all that they are. By creating works of art, they are able to express other facets of themselves. ”
Watson and other Northwest Center staff members also produce artworks for display.
“I am exhibiting a painting of a flower that I painted while taking a painting class,” said senior clinician Tameka Tunsil.
“I took an art class at a community center and it made me realize ‘this is me, I am an artist,’” added senior clinician Ilonka Sabic-Lukic, who also has a painting displayed in the exhibit.
“Overall, the exhibit is interesting in that it celebrates and displays the creative expressions of everyone involved with our services,” said Beuscher. “Not only those who are receiving them, but also those providing them. Artistic expression is a way of bringing everyone closer together.”