What is “Awakenings”?

Empowering Persons with Mental Illness Through Art

Awakenings is an award-winning coalition of artists, all of whom have some psychiatric diagnosis or another. The mission of the Awakenings Project is to assist persons with mental health issues in developing and enhancing our creative abilities through art in all forms, and raising public awareness of the creative talents and contributions of people living with psychiatric disorders.

We hope that as contributors we will benefit in our recovery from this activity, and our viewers will thereby better understand the creative capacity and overall potential of persons living with mental ill health.

Awakenings has always been a grass-roots initiative. It shows that “consumers” can become producers of fabulous art exhibits, literary arts journals, music and theatrical events. We are very proud to have been the winners of the “Outstanding Contribution to Recovery by a Non-Profit Organization” award by the Irwin Foundation at Celebration Recovery 2006.

Empowering through Art
The collecting of fine art created by persons living with mental illnesses has become widespread in recent years, with several associations curating and showing pieces at national venues.

Some researchers conclude that among scores of celebrated artists, writers and musicians there exists some positive relationship between affective disorders and being endowed with creative genius.

Though the Awakenings Project does not purport to be a breeding ground for artistic geniuses, there does appear to be important and widespread interest in artistic endeavors among people with psychiatric disorders. Art, whether fine art or art therapy, heals some of the personal wounds brought about by mental ill health. It is a purposeful and optimistic activity. The artists plan exhibits, look forward to upcoming shows, grow and develop our artistic talents. The artists receive positive feedback, questions about the art, and also make sales or get commissions.

Healing through Art

People familiar with psychiatric illnesses understand the terrible loss of purpose and self-esteem due to these disorders. The arts can heal some of these wounds. Art provides individuals struggling with these disabling illnesses hope, purpose and identity. Artists and viewers alike realize that all these exhibitions, journals, poetry readings, plays, music, etc., have been produced and directed entirely by persons with mental illnesses.

The last thirty years have produced revolutionary changes in the treatment of persons with severe psychiatric disorders, and the last ten have shown that empowerment and recovery can be advanced by using therapeutic alternatives, such as the Awakenings Project, as adjuncts to traditional medicinal and psychotherapeutic treatments.

While the media’s portrayal of people with mental illness is heavily biased toward violent behavior (which is actually no more prevalent than in the general public), the understanding and acceptance of people with mental ill health can be advanced through projects like Awakenings.

Our exhibits, writings, etc. make a statement that persons with mental illness are highly capable and talented people wishing to contribute to society, and that art is a healing activity.

The Need We Address in the Community

Epidemiological research suggests that a staggering 10% of the population may have a major mental illness in their lifetime. Fully 1% of the population meets the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia while another 1 to 2% fit into the bi-polar (manic-depression) category. As many as 25% of women and 12% of men experience major depression during their lives.

variety of medical, psychotherapeutic and self-help methods have helped people overcome disabilities related to these illnesses and recover. Despite this advancement, persons with severe mental illnesses still experience stigma and discrimination by a society that views mental ill health in a different light than physical ill health.

Social researchers agree that gaining or regaining power over our lives is essential to overcoming stigma and achieving our greatest potential. Art is one mechanism to facilitate empowerment and foster recovery. The personal growth and improvement in socialization skills, confidence and self-esteem in the artists is phenomenal.

The support network we have created reaches far beyond the walls of the studio/gallery; the friendships we have formed have been lasting. In these 10+ years of association with the Awakenings Project, we have received

much positive feedback from parents, siblings and friends of the artists about how important Awakenings has been in the artists’ lives. The core group of volunteers puts in many hours and much effort to make each exhibit, every journal, all the music, poetry readings and any plays we produce as professional and rewarding as possible.




For Questions regarding the Awakenings Project, please use the Contact Us form.