By SUSAN ELAN
THE JOURNAL NEWS
(Original publication: March 5, 2004)
To the lilt of piano music and the buzz of about 100 artists and their guests, an exhibit called “Vision 2004: Westchester Artists with Disabilities” opened yesterday at the Arts Exchange, the Westchester Arts Council headquarters on Mamaroneck Avenue.
The exhibit in the ornate main room of a former bank displays 100 paintings, drawings, watercolors, collages, sculpture and photographs of 50 artists who utilize mental health services in Westchester County.
Expressive therapies involving the creation of works of visual art, poetry writing or composing music have long been regarded as effective tools in helping those with mental disorders communicate and gain self-esteem, said Dr. Jennifer Schaffer, commissioner of the county Department of Community Mental Health.
In addition, an exhibit such as Vision 2004 “shows the rest of the community that even though someone suffers from mental illness, people can recover and make a contribution to the community,” Schaffer said.
Robert Allensworth, 55, of Yonkers, who suffers from depression, said art has played very therapeutic role in his life. “It’s a way for people to get out of their head,” said Allensworth, who specializes in portraits of famous people including Churchill, Stalin and Bill Clinton.
“Art therapy is such a cathartic way for people to express their vulnerability and fragile emotions in a nonverbal way,” said Lee Doyle, art therapist at the Rockland Psychiatric Center of White Plains, who helped organize the show.
Preparing for the annual show has helped many of the artists live their daily lives more fully, Doyle said. “Art is able to accomplish things that can’t be accomplished by other means,” she said. “People come alive and function at a much better level.”
The show, the third annual exhibit of its kind hosted by the Arts Council at its Mamaroneck Avenue location, runs through March 12.
George Anthony Williams, 29, of New Rochelle, has found that he can successfully combine work as a part-time manager of an art store in Mamaroneck with the pursuit of fine arts. Williams is exhibiting his work called “A Positive Sign,” a digital collage of two of his oil paintings, one of which is a self-portrait painted before his hospitalization in 1998 for bipolar disorder.
Also participating in the exhibit is White Plains poet John Bajak, 41, who suffers from schizophrenia. “The definition of a poet is one who is not afraid to look at himself,” said Bajak, who has written 4,000 poems and is distributing an illustrated collection of about one dozen poems at the exhibit.
While offering promising artists the opportunity to develop their careers, the exhibit also opens the door for arts lovers to experience the works of undiscovered and talented individuals, said Renie Milliken, a rehabilitation counselor with the Rockland Psychiatric Center of White Plains.
“They are artists first,” Milliken said. “The mental illness is second.”
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