WILMINGTON, De. (AP) — Movements across the world over the past few years have taken aim at the stigma surrounding mental health issues.
Celebrities, athletes and other prominent individuals have been more open about their mental health struggles and the things they do to cope.
Those behind a new creative collaboration in Delaware hope to take this conversation a step further — and closer to home — by inspiring dialogue through a community-wide art installation.
Winterthur, Duffy’s Hope, and the Spiral Cemetery have partnered with The Creative Vision Factory to raise awareness about mental health issues through the installation of colorful, mosaic tile benches designed by artists and installed in different areas of the state.
The hope with this project is that these “eye-catching works of art” will start a much-needed conversation about “issues surrounding underserved youth and the mentally ill and indigent,″ according to project leaders.
Tiles for each bench are either handmade or pieces of upcycled material from past Creative Vision Factory projects or Habitat for Humanity Restore. They were assembled by the artists as well as community volunteers.
The Creative Vision Factory, which will celebrate its 10 year anniversary in December, has been a strong advocate for mental health from the very beginning. The organization’s mission, according to their website, is to “foster the creative potential of individuals on the behavioral health spectrum in a studio art environment that cultivates integration with the local art community through a program of exhibitions, workshops, and communal workspace.”
“They almost look like Tetris pieces,” says Michael Kalmbach, director of The Creative Vision Factory of the new benches. “They’re a bench that also has a planter built into it. So each bench will have some sort of plant growth coming out of it.”
Indeed, the colorful benches do look very much like Tetris pieces, as each piece depends on the next one to stay up. The colors blend together, as shades seamlessly change from a darker color to a lighter one.
Two special benches with ceramic portraits made by an anonymous street artist, Hope Hummingbird, will appear outside of Duffy’s Hope and the New Castle County Hope Center.
A ceramic portrait of the late Michael Solomon, a former employee at The Creative Vision Factory
A portrait of Alice Dunbar-Nelson, the American poet, journalist and political activist will appear outside of Duffy’s Hope. The all-blue portrait shows a proud-looking Dunbar-Nelson in a wide-brimmed hat.
Duffy’s Hope is a non-profit organization for at-risk youth ages 12 to 17 located in Wilmington. It has served more than 4,500 young people.
Outside of the New Castle County Hope Center, a hotel-turned homeless shelter, will be a bench that has personal meaning for center staff as well as for the Creative Vision Factory. This bench will display a portrait of former Creative Vision Factory project foreman Michael Solomon, who passed away last July. The portrait, also done by Hope Hummingbird, shows a smiling Solomon with a paintbrush in each hand.
Installation of another bench was underway this month, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, at Winterthur.
The Winterthur Museum, Garden, and Library has been a prominent part of Delaware history since it opened in 1951. Since then, it has become one of the most important collections of Americana in the country.
“I feel that Winterthur as an institution is also looking for ways that they can roll up their sleeves and get involved,” said Kalmbach.
For the bench at Winterthur, artists are using pieces of broken dishes in each of the tiles. These pieces come from the artists themselves, other employees, or even past volunteers. One plate is from President Joe Biden’s family.
“My Aunt Mary just sent me a whole bunch of things that I can break up that represents my grandmother ... There’s dinnerware that my wife and I got from our wedding. The benches are just going to be comprised of all of these pieces of family history,” stated Kalmbach.
Winterthur has been involved in community art projects in the past and saw the value in this collaboration across Delaware.
“What I hope, and what I do think will happen, is that Winterthur will continue to, in various ways, provide resources — whether that’s people or inspiration or just a place to come and be inspired,” said Catharine Dann Rober, interim director of Academic Programs at Winterthur.
Yet another mosaic bench was designed for installation at Spiral Cemetery.
The cemetery, located at the Delaware Psychiatric Center near New Castle, is home to more than 700 graves for unclaimed patients who died there between 1891 and 1983. It was recently been refurbished after years of neglect.
“I think we really need to emphasize the fact that we’re all part of the human family, said Faith Kuehn of Spiral Cemetery.
“We all have our joys and our struggles and by honoring the graves of people buried (at the Spiral Cemetery, we’re also honoring the lives of people living now and struggling with mental health issues.″