Fulton State Hospital, Art House partner to overcome stigma

Art show featuring works by hospital clients runs May 7-21

As a Fulton State Hospital employee, Peggy Reed-Lohmeyer has seen firsthand the effect art can have on the hospital’s clients. Though FSH does not have an on-staff art therapist, many of the clients say they benefit from art, finding ways to express themselves when words fail.

Now, Reed-Lohmeyer thinks the works her clients create can help overcome the stigma around mental illness.

More than 100 pieces from about 90 different individuals will be on display from Wednesday to May 21 at the Art House as part of the Fulton State Hospital Overcoming Stigma Team’s “Overcoming Stigma Art Show.” The exhibit is sponsored by the Fulton State Hospital Foundation, and there will be a reception with refreshments 5-7 p.m. May 15.

Reed-Lohmeyer, the Overcoming Stigma Team’s chairperson, said that art in its own way is therapeutic for many of the hospital’s clients.

“For many clients, where they struggle to maybe express things through words, they can express them through art easier,” Reed-Lohmeyer said. “Through the process of creating things, it can help put words to things or thinking about experiences in the past, and several clients have found it therapeutic to create art, that’s their words — ‘this is my therapy,’ or ‘this helps me cope.’”

Reed-Lohmeyer said her group has been no stranger to using art to advance its mission statement since it was created in 2009. In most years in the past, the Overcoming Stigma Team has showcased work clients have done creating expressive pillowcases, but this year’s project is the first time it will focus on more traditional art forms such as paintings and models.

After learning the Art House was opening this year, Reed-Lohmeyer reached out to board members to host an art display there during May, National Mental Health Awareness Month. For Art House Curator Brian Mahieu, the exhibit hits close to home.

“From a personal standpoint, I had clinical depression from the age of 14 to 35 with no counseling and no treatment whatsoever, so I think that being transparent with people is important,” Mahieu said. “I think people with mental illness are afraid and have been told not to feel, not to think, not to talk about (their) feelings. I think all of those things are important and having this show is a way of giving a voice to people that, I dare say from looking at a lot of the art, feel like they don’t have a voice.”

Mahieu described the works as “beautiful,” “poignant” and “haunting,” and said he would publish photos of the art in a gallery setting online for hospital clients who aren’t able to leave and see their work on display in person.

“Art is a way of expressing that which cannot be expressed any other way,” Mahieu said. “Through this art, these people are communicating and have a story, and we want to share that story and bring understanding.”

Reed-Lohmeyer said she hopes sharing that story will help alleviate stigma around mental illness.

“I think there’s a lot of fear, we tend to fear what we don’t know and I think that’s human nature,” she said. “I think this is a way folks can be exposed to clients they couldn’t otherwise have, and they kind of get a glimpse into their hearts and souls.

“We had a display at Fulton State Hospital for the Bluegrass and Barbecue festival our first year, and I was fortunate enough to be there the whole time. The comments people made as they came up and looked were amazing: ‘I drive by this place every day and never knew what was behind those fences.’”

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