THE AWAKENINGS PROJECT
Who are we? First and foremost, we are artists. Awakenings has been riding the crest of a trend in recent years. The collecting of fine art created by persons living with mental illnesses has become fairly widespread, with several associations curating and showing pieces at national venues. Other literary magazines devoted to people with mental illnesses have appeared on the landscape.
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.
Epidemiological research suggests that as much as 10% of the population of the United States may experience a major mental illness in their lifetimes. As many as 25% of women and 12% of men experience an episode of major depression sometime during their lives .Fully 1% of the population meets the diagnostic criteria for schizophrenia, while another 1 to 2% fit into the bipolar (manic-depression) category. There have been significant advancements in the treatment of severe and persistent mental illnesses through medicine and psychotherapy, helping people to overcome disabilities related to these illnesses and to recover. Recovery and empowerment can be advanced even further by participation in self-help efforts such as The Awakenings Project.
People familiar with psychiatric illnesses understand the painful loss of purpose and self-esteem which often accompany these disorders. The arts can heal some of these wounds, providing individuals who struggle with these disabling illnesses hope, purpose, and a sense of identity. Self-expression through art—whether it be in the form of painting, writing poetry or short stories, playing a musical instrument or composing a piece of music, or writing, producing, or playing a role in a dramatic production—is a purposeful and optimistic activity.
Art, whether it be 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 their artistic talents. The artists receive positive feedback, field questions about their art, and also make sales or win commissions. Writers, on the other hand, find vindication in seeing their work published in an attractive and reputable journal.
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Joining together with fellow artists, writers, musicians, and thespians in a focus on creative activity has healing power, too, and helps individuals struggling with mental illness overcome the social isolation that their illness often imparts. The community and network of support reaches far beyond the walls of the studio, resulting in long-lasting friendships and collaborative relationships. We have received much positive feedback from parents, siblings, spouses, friends, and the artists themselves about how important Awakenings has been in participants' lives.
Long before our association with the Theater for Mental Health (TMH),in 2003 Awakenings attended a workshop with The Second City in Chicago. Second City's Community Outreach director, Dionna Griffin, led us through exercises called "Zip, Zap, Zop," "The Hitchhiker," mirroring, and a series of scenes called "Wheres." The event promoted team building and a great time was had by all.
Participants in The Awakenings Project plan exhibits or performances, prepare for upcoming events, and grow and develop their artistic talents. The artists receive positive feedback, field questions about their art, and also make sales or win commissions. Writers find satisfaction in seeing their work published in Awakenings' attractive and reputable journal, The Awakenings Review.
A 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.
The Awakenings Project held four annual dinners from 2003 through 2006, made possible by charitable contributions from AstraZeneca. During those celebratory evenings, Awakenings artists donated pieces of their artwork to many local area hospitals and mental health centers. The guests experienced a whole range of arts activities, with a display of visual arts, musicians and poets sharing their gifts, even brief monologues or scenes from plays were acted out by actors from the Theater for Mental Health in 2006.
Persons with severe mental illnesses often experience stigma and discrimination by a society that views mental ill health in a different light than physical ill health. Caricature portrayals of people with mental illnesses are heavily biased toward bizarre or violent behavior (which is actually no more prevalent than in the general public). We believe the understanding and acceptance of people with mental ill health can be advanced through projects like Awakenings. Our exhibits, writings, performances, and community activities make a statement that persons with mental illness are highly capable and talented people wishing to contribute positively to society. 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 Awakenings' participants is phenomenal.
A 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. Therefore, we self-identify, and identify with people with a variety of other disabilities which is why, on July 23, 2005 - We participated in the 2nd Disability Pride Parade in Chicago.
We were also honored to have been invited by Thresholds, the largest provider of community mental health services in the state of Illinois, to participate on October 18, 2005 - by having an information table at Thresholds' Leadership Expo at the Oak Lawn Hilton.
The Awakenings Project is a U.S. registered 501(c)(3) tax-deductible nonprofit charity.
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