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Volume 26, Number 6 — June 2019

Highlands Community Services Looks to Art to Promote Recovery

This painting by Virginia Intermont College senior Amy Lust will be part of the Recovery Art Gallery at the new Highlands Center for Behavioral Health in Abingdon, Va.
This painting by Virginia Intermont College senior Amy Lust will be part of the Recovery Art Gallery at the new Highlands Center for Behavioral Health in Abingdon, Va.

Call for Entries for Recovery Art Gallery

June 17, 2008

ABINGDON, Va. — "Art has tremendous capacity to promote healing ... whether it be music, dance or visual art," says Marsha Miller of the Center for Behavioral Health, Highlands Community Services (HCS). "It can also educate and inspire ... that is why we are dedicating a large space in our new building as a Recovery Art Gallery. We want to honor the people who bravely walk the journey to recovery as well as those who aid them in that walk," she explains.

Highlands Center for Behavioral Health, a new 42,000 square foot building on Campus Drive in Abingdon, will be ready for occupancy around the end of August. Fourteen separate locations will be housed under one roof — providing everything from outpatient counseling to psychiatric services.

The Recovery Art Gallery will span 170 feet in length and when completed will exhibit anywhere from 50-75 pieces of hanging art. The gallery will be open to the public.

"In making this idea a reality, I started by asking, 'What does art that represents mental health recovery look like?' I have always painted and sketched myself and that gave me a rudimentary knowledge about artistic expression. So I answered my own question. Mental health recovery means clarity and focus, a good view of self and others ... healthy relationships and boundaries ... facing one's limitations and working with them ... therefore art representing mental health recovery would have clear lines, be accurately representational, have strong vibrant color as opposed to the somber and dreary. Subjects might be found in nature, which also plays a role in recovery," Miller continues.

Miller, Community Relations director for HCS, is assisting Carolyn Peterson, department director for Mental Health Care Coordination, and the clinical services team of HCS.

"It is vital that we send the message of hope and encouragement to our consumers, rather than one of negativity. In recovery, we focus on strengths not weaknesses," says Peterson. "Recovery is the process where a mental health consumer progresses from having difficulty managing their life because of their illness to being strong, resourceful and functioning. Recovery looks different in each individual and it doesn't mean the consumer has no setbacks or struggles."

Choices are still being made for the exhibit. "We started at Virginia Intermont College and that provided some wonderful work but we now need to branch out to the community at large. We are asking for submissions — any media is acceptable, as long as it will hang from a gallery cable system. Canvases are fine but other media needs to be framed under glass," says Miller.

Artworks will be on loan to HCS for three months, after which the exhibit will change, adding new work and new artists. Students, professionals and amateurs are welcome to submit work. To be considered, a color electronic .JPG, .TIFF file or a hard copy must be sent to the Community Relations Department of Center for Behavioral Health.

"Recovery is a journey and it can be a long and hard one for some people. What is so inspirational about dealing with those who walk the mental health journey toward recovery is both their courage in facing each day and the amazing capacity for creativity they employ in that journey. Some write, others paint or do needlework. Some take long walks and submerse themselves in nature. For some reason, highly creative people are more prone to mental health and substance abuse issues," says Miller. "In our agency we know these people are truly heroes and this art gallery is our way of giving them a visual badge of honor."

Highlands Center for Behavioral Health has been operating for 35 years in Washington County, Va. and Bristol, Va., providing multiple services for substance abuse, mental illness and intellectual disabilities.