Howard Center Arts Collective Showcase the Power of Self-Expression | Guide to the art of hops | Seven days
Artistic creation and therapy have always had a symbiotic relationship. Swiss psychologist Carl Jung encouraged his patients to paint mandalas in the 1920s for anxiety relief, and he himself created art in times of personal distress.
The Howard Center Arts Collective is open to adult artists who have experienced mental health or addiction issues, either personally or with family, friends or colleagues. Launched in 2013, the collective maintains a busy program of quarterly exhibitions, weekly open studios, virtual meetings and museum visits.
YouTube video on the collective is visible on the Howard Center website. In it, member Tom Stetson describes his mixed and pen and ink works as inspired by “medieval woodcuts and ancient medical illustrations”. He says he sometimes works eight to ten hours a day. “I have a lot of difficulty verbalizing things, so I use pictures,” says Stetson. “It is very therapeutic for me, I am able to suffocate the demons in me.”
Artist Colleen Murphy is the Howard Center Arts Collective’s art installation guide. She shared some thoughts ahead of the group’s South End Art Hop exhibition.
How was the collective born?
The Collectif des Arts had a very unique birth. As of 2013, several staff who worked in Howard Center group homes were on their annual retirement. There, a few artists came up with the idea of reaching out to other artists with lived experience with mental health issues. These first members worked together to put together the first public exhibition of the Collectif des arts.
The experience was enjoyable and this budding community began the process of creating a space where, whether we provided or received services, we were all artists and we shared that common ground.
How many members are there currently?
There are between 20 and 25 participating members. Some only participate in shows; some come in an open studio; some only participate in our weekly Zoom calls (where we share art and provide commentary). Some join us for all three. We like to meet people where they are and let them choose the activities that suit them best.
Tell me a bit about your own artwork and your approach to the intersection of art and sanity.
I work in mixed media and have a particular interest in environments, both internal and external. Collage is an important part of my work, which is sometimes figurative and semi-abstract. Art is my way of expressing thoughts and feelings using colors, symbols and photographic references to respond to the world or create my own. It gives me a way to get out of my head and into my imagination while physically connecting to materials.
What is one of your favorite moments working with the collective?
I must say that the reception [this summer] at the Flynndog Gallery which commemorated Christine Pemberton and her works of art was a profound experience. I knew Christine shortly before her death, and she was loved as a kind, friendly and talented person who was dedicated to her art, as well as to the collective.
Meeting his family when they came to Vermont to host a memorial service, as well as attending the art reception, highlighted how art provided respite from its challenges. It was gratifying to hear how much her creativity nourished her.
Is there a dedicated space or studio for member artists to work, or do people create their works themselves?
The two! Some artists prefer to work alone or occasionally attend open studios, and others participate regularly. We have studios open twice a week. Mondays are public; Wednesdays are reserved for Howard Center guests. We are following all COVID guidelines and are hiding and distancing ourselves currently.
You already have an impressive number of events; Is there anything else the collective has planned for the future?
We are preparing to paint a fresco soon at Brian’s North End Automobile [at 98 North Avenue]. We are going to paint three garage doors and the side of the building. Tom Stetson will be the main artist to sketch the designs we have brainstormed as a group, and other members will paint these designs.
We are participating in South End Art Hop and will be exhibiting at Innovation center for three months. This show will be hosted by SEABA, and we will also have an online presence.
Our last external exhibition of the year will be at the Metropolitan Gallery in [Burlington] Town Hall in November – our first exhibition in this space. We discussed the themes of the exhibition as a group and chose the title “Interlaced”.