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Out & About: Lebanon art exhibit sheds light on mental health struggles

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    Kevin Soraci's "The Comforts of Home," is part of new exhibit at AVA Gallery and Art Center titled "Tethered by Light: A Group Exhibition Inspired by National Mental Health Awareness Month of May," which runs from April 23-June 4. (Photograph courtesy AVA Gallery and Art Center) courtesy AVA Gallery and Art Center

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    Shawna Gibbs' "Movie Night" is part of new exhibit at AVA Gallery and Art Center titled "Tethered by Light: A Group Exhibition Inspired by National Mental Health Awareness Month of May," which runs from April 23-June 4. (Photograph courtesy AVA Gallery and Art Center) courtesy AVA Gallery and Art Center

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    Stephanie Gordon's "Reflection" is part of new exhibit at AVA Gallery and Art Center titled "Tethered by Light: A Group Exhibition Inspired by National Mental Health Awareness Month of May," which runs from April 23-June 4. (Photograph courtesy AVA Gallery and Art Center) courtesy AVA Gallery and Art Center

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/17/2021 9:39:11 PM
Modified: 4/17/2021 9:39:10 PM

There’s a common phrase, and variations thereof, that has been oft repeated throughout our pandemic year: “There will be light at the end of this.”

But in the darkest days of the 2020 and 2021, it was often difficult to see when — and how — that light would shine.

People have struggled with depression, anxiety and other mental health concerns. Even if you yourself haven’t struggled, you likely know someone who has. The stigma associated with mental health has long prevented people from reaching out for help, complicating treatment efforts.

Two area nonprofit organizations — West Central Behavioral Health and AVA Gallery and Art Center — are aiming to change that with a new exhibit that explores the relationship between mental health and art. Titled “Tethered by Light: A Group Exhibition Inspired by National Mental Health Awareness Month of May,” it will be on display at AVA from April 23-June 4. Anna West, of West Central Behavioral Health, and Julie Puttgen, of the Center for Integrative Health, will give a talk about art therapy from 4-5 p.m. on May 15 that can be streamed via Zoom. The exhibit can also be viewed online at avagallery.org/exhibitions/tethered-by-light-april-23-june-4-2021.

“Having some kind of art show where people could see and talk about art relevant to mental health could be a really good conversation for the community,” said Dave Celone, director of development and community relations at West Central. “Every step we take to make public the conversation about public health reduces the stigma of mental illness, being treated for mental illness, substance misuse, being treated for substance misuse. Making a conversation about mental health mainstream is critical to achieving that vision.”

The show was in the works even before the pandemic began after Celone, former owner of Long River Gallery and Gifts, reached out to AVA about the idea. Heidi Reynolds, executive director of AVA, quickly signed on. They both agreed that the pandemic makes that conversation even more important.

“We have a voice in the community and a responsibility to act as a beacon for conversation and to bring to light and start conversation around the issues that affect our community and our society,” Reynolds said. “And this is a big one.”

The show features around 25 artists and 35 pieces, said Sam Eckert, exhibition manager at AVA. Along with their art submissions, artists were asked how their works relate to the theme “tethered by light.” Their answers were so moving, Eckert said, that she plans on including them throughout the exhibit. Among them are this one from Dan Brenton: “My work takes place at night with sources of light spilling out into the darkness; whether they are real or artificial, these lights are beacons for whomever may need a sign that they’re not alone.”

“I felt like people were really excited about the theme and really moved by it. It wasn’t just your ordinary theme,” said Eckert, an artist whose work will also be in the exhibit. “It had a meaning to everybody who submitted.”

Reynolds has experience using art to get through tough times. In 2018, her partner died suddenly, and she found solace in the arts.

“It sent me into a deep tailspin,” she said. “I found myself realizing that I didn’t have the full capacity to work like I had before, but I needed something to get me out of the house and get me in a different frame of mind.”

Then Reynolds spent two weeks working on a high school exhibition.

“That two weeks was really important for me, because it did help lift me out of a depression and it gave me some hope thinking I could do this,” she said.

That openness could help others talk about their own struggles. Celone said it could be difficult for people to contact West Central and say directly, “I need help.” Viewing an art exhibit — and seeing mental health struggles embraced and normalized instead of pushed aside — could go a long way for someone who is hesitant to seek help.

“Trying to normalize the notion that reaching out to get help when you’re in pain emotionally, psychologically, is very important,” Celone said.

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.




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