Mental Illness Visualized Through Create Awareness Art Exhibit

Several Kent State University departments have come together to produce Create Awareness, an art exhibit located on the first floor of the University Library that focuses on using art to depict the personal experiences of Kent State students, faculty and staff with mental illness.

Create Awareness is a collaborative effort between the College of Public Health Center for Public Policy and Health’s Division of Mental Health and Substance Use, School of Art, University Libraries and Student Accessibility Services. It is part of the on-campus initiative Talk On, an online resource funded through a Kent State of Wellness “Seeds of Wellness” grant that encourages students, faculty and staff to share their personal experiences with mental illness through storytelling, song lyrics, poetry, drawings and photos. 

According to Kent State Division of Mental Health and Substance Use (DMHSU) Associate Director Deric Kenne, Ph.D., Create Awareness was conceived with the goal of bringing more exposure to the powerful and motivational personal stories of mental illness that were shared through the Talk On website. 

“We are incredibly grateful for the inspiring personal stories of mental illness and recovery that we received through Talk On and for the artists who offered their time and talents to bring awareness to such an important topic,” Kenne said.  

In Fall 2018, a call for artists was made to participate in Create Awareness, and eleven artists volunteered to participate in the initiative. Each artist selected an eligible Talk On submission and then created a piece of art for the exhibit based on that submission. 

In the exhibit, each piece of artwork is accompanied by a laminated copy of the Talk On submission that inspired it, as well as a label crediting the artist and details about their work.

Sarah Adkins, one of the student artists who created work for the exhibit, hopes that those who view her piece – and the accompanying story – will be more open to understanding the intensely personal struggles of mental illness.

“Art is meant to be a subjective experience, and I want people to take from my art what they will,” Adkins said. “That being said, I tried to convey that mental illness can be scary or uncomfortable to look at, but the longer you look at it the more you realize it’s a part of everyone’s unique experience in life.” 

Marie Bukowski, Director of the School of Art, said that she hopes the exhibition brings a dialog directly to the public about dealing with mental illness. 

“What has once been considered a taboo subject has now become an issue on the rise that needs an open discussion for better understanding,” Bukowski said “This exhibition does just that by highlighting personal stories and artwork together to discuss the most important issues in our community. Our hope is to take away any stigma associated with mental health.” 

According to DMHSU Research and Programming Associate Kimberly Laurene, Ph.D., the written pieces seen at the exhibit are just a handful of those that were submitted and published online in an effort to reduce mental illness stigma on campus. 

“Mental illness is common — maybe more common than people realize.,” Laurene said. “We want those that view the Create Awareness exhibit, and read the stories that inspired the art, to leave with a better understanding of mental illness.”

Laurene hopes that after the exhibit ends, various campus departments will volunteer to display some of the pieces of art to continue to promote mental health awareness.

To learn more about the exhibit and its inspiration, visit www.kent.edu/TalkOn.