Colorful and intricate art pieces of all different mediums lined the entire Mills International Center, covering every wall and even requiring easels and tables to hold the pieces. May is dedicated as National Mental Health Awareness month which focuses on celebrating and discussing mental health. As a way to finish off Mental Health Awareness month, the University of Oregon’s Duck Nest hosted their own Mental Wellbeing Art Show. The event was orchestrated by the Duck Nest’s mental wellbeing outreach team composed entirely of UO students who specialize in planning events for fellow students.
“We know that art and other creative outlets can be really beneficial for mental health purposes, and it gives people a way to engage in their own mental health and to create a productive conversation surrounding it,” said Chaucie Edwards, coordinator of the Mental Wellbeing Outreach team.
The UO counseling center kicked off the month with the Mental Health Summit which was a full day of discussions about mental health advocacy and resources. The Mental Wellbeing Outreach team decided to finish off the month with this show as a tribute to talking about mental health in a positive way. “Mental health is a really heavy topic and art is a phenomenal way to express that and engage with that. That really shines through with the art that is being displayed,” Edwards said.
The art show took place in the Mills International Center located in the Erb Memorial Union on the UO campus on May 31. This was the students’ first time hosting this particular event, though they do host multiple events throughout the year focusing on mental health and wellness. The event attracted many different artists from UO and the Eugene community. There were over 30 art pieces that included digital paintings, sculptures, photography, sketches, video art, paintings and poems.
The Mental Wellbeing Outreach team has six people that work year round as advocates for mental health. They provide educational and non-judgemental information to the public about mental health and act as a support system for UO students who struggle with anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses to utilize. They use their platform to create meaningful conversations that break down the stigma surrounding mental health.
“I love being a part of this team because it gives me a way to connect with people about mental health, which isn’t talked about often enough,” said Taylor Allen, member of the Mental Wellbeing Outreach team.
The artists were given the prompt “Positive Change” and were encouraged by the Duck Nest to interpret it in any way that they wanted to — whether it be a change in mental health, coping strategies or lifestyle. Each art piece was paired alongside an artist statement that displayed the artist’s name, the medium they used, the title they gave the piece and a statement about what the piece meant to them.
Many of the pieces were dedications to the artists’ personal struggles with mental health; some were reflections upon past struggles, and others focused on the possible bright future of their mental health. With few restrictions on what the artists could create for the show, they were able to express themselves in any way that they wanted to. This opened up a safe space for self expression and created a meaningful dialogue about mental wellbeing amongst the artists and those visiting the show.
Cecilia Sanchez, a community member, submitted her electronic art piece titled “Creare” to the show. The Portland-based artist creates many pieces that have a mental wellbeing and health focus. “I love expressing myself through my art,” Sanchez said. “My pieces are always a reflection of my soul, but I feel they are relatable to others as well; they can see parts of themselves in my art.”
Her piece is a bright and colorful display of various shapes, lines and intricate designs that came together in one large painting with a dark background that helped illuminate the colors. “To me, this art displays that you can have a bad experience, which is reflected in the dark aspects of this piece, but that there is always light around you, which can be seen in the colorful aspects of this piece,” said Sanchez.
UO student Taia Lucas submitted her digital painting titled “Memories in Scars.” Lucas is no stranger to syncing art with mental health as she is an avid participant in the UO Counseling Center’s annual “All Sizes Fit” art show that focuses on body and mind positivity. “I like participating in these shows because being aware of mental health is a good thing; it isn’t always a bad thing to talk about,.” Lucas said. Her piece depicts a person from the neck down sitting with various rolls of film unfurling out of scars across the person’s body.
“I made this to show that sometimes scars are not visible and instead are memories that can be good or bad but you still have them, and these scars can be beautiful,” Lucas said.
“Mental health challenges are a lot more common on college campuses than you may think and one of our main goals is to de-stigmatize mental health and make it more of a conversation,” Edwards said.
“We wanted to bring that conversation surrounding mental health to the surface in a positive way to make people think about mental health and engage with it and to have conversations with other people to normalize that mental health is relevant to everyone.”