Artbeat Studio’s Artist-in-Residency Program sparks conversation about mental health issues.

L.J. Anderson’s jarring painting titled Ulnar Neuropathy is on display at Artbeat Studio at 62 Albert St. Anderson is one of eight artists enrolled in the studio’s six month Residency program./PHELPS

By Dan Phelps

Brilliant red squares frame a pale hand and forearm. Fingers are fully extended. Where an elbow should be, hangs a mess of dangling nerves. This water colour painting titled Ulnar Neuropathy by L.J. Anderson is on display at the Artbeat Studio gallery.

“I CONSTANTLY feel as similar to striking your funny bone, but the surging, electric shock-like pain never goes away,” writes Anderson in a sketchbook accompanying her series of paintings and drawings. 

Other entries and artworks reflect on her experiences with anxiety, depression, and insomnia.

Anderson is an Artbeat Studio alumna who participated in the Artist-in-Residency Program. The program provides six months of mentoring and workspace to artists whom the studio’s website describes as “consumers of mental health services”.

Seated beside a pottery wheel, Artbeat Studio founder Nigel Bart, 44 said he discovered the healing power of art-based communication. His practice in art began when he was introduced to pottery after being diagnosed with schizophrenia./PHELPS

Nigel Bart, 44, is a founder and studio facilitator at Artbeat Studio who’s had his own struggles with schizophrenia. He said Artbeat Studio is a peer-led organization.

“We’re not doing therapy, we’re not counselors, we’re not clinicians,” said Bart. “The peer level is very much about exchanging ideas almost like on a colleague basis.”

Bart was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his first year out of high school. His mother introduced him to pottery and in 1999 he completed a four-year Fine Arts degree at the University of Manitoba.

When he worked in the mental health field as a support worker, he recognized there was a need for an arts-centric space for people with mental health issues. 

Fay Shlanda, 52, is the oldest member in the current crop of residents and has been dubbed the Writing, Weaving, Wire-wrapping Matriarch.

Seated at her loom, Shlanda weaves a bracelet. She learned this skill when she was a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism. She also makes pendants, earrings, and crystal trees composed of branches made of wire and leaves of coloured stone.

Fay Schlanda, 52, enjoys the group art critique sessions with her peers, “It’s great having that from people that have been there, done that.”/PHELPS

A referral from the Crisis Stabilization Unit on Portage Ave. brought her to Artbeat Studio. Shlanda said she’s unable to work full time, but the mentoring she’s received will help her.

“It will give me some income and some sense of being able to have purpose that I can’t get otherwise.”

Bart said art helps people with mental illness because it gives them hope and makes them feel like they aren’t just “this cluster of symptoms.”

Artbeat Studio’s next group show will take place during the week of January 18, 2020. You can visit on the fourth floor of 62 Albert St.