‘Artability’ Thrives

Thirteenth Annual Exhibit celebrates creativity of people with mental illness Art is all around you — from the design of […]

Thirteenth Annual Exhibit celebrates creativity of people with mental illness

Art is all around you — from the design of the letters that make up this sentence to the pictures on the wall or the flowers outside your window. Art has a powerful presence in all our lives, and yet we often overlook it in the bustle of everyday life — and the human creativity that goes into making it possible.

People Incorporated’s Art-ability art show gives you a chance to be transported to another place — one where art and creativity take center stage. It’s also a chance to step out of our usual whirl and celebrate the talents of local artists — artists for whom art is not only an expression of themselves, but also a lifeline in coping with mental illness.

Stephanie’s Story

Stephanie Jones is making a name for herself in this city of artists; her latest achievement is in having one of her paintings selected to advertise the 2007 Artability show. Her piece, “Minneapolis — City of Lakes,” incorporates stylized representations of the Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture and the Minneapolis rose garden. It’s about friendship, too, symbolized in the cup raised high by two friends sitting on a dock on a starry summer night.

Jones is a self-taught artist who likes a variety of media — from painting and sculpture to stained glass, puppetry, bookbinding and jewelry. Working with a mentor this year, however, transformed her painting and she’s since completed about 30 paintings in the style of her winning piece. She sells paintings and greeting cards in local galleries and shops.

As a person with bipolar depression, art plays a central role in Jones’ life. “Art saves my life — I feel better and feel productive when I do it, “ she says. “I really rely on it when my depression is bad, or if I’m manic it takes away my nervous energy. I also feel less alone, because I know I’m communicating something to others, even if I’m not there when they see it. I think it helps other people to know that they’re not alone, too.”

This year will be her second year exhibiting at Artability. “I’m so impressed with how many people come to the show, and how much art there is. I really like that you can see several pieces by the same artist. There are also so many different styles — it’s fun and exciting to see it all because it keeps my mind open to new ideas.” Jones is hoping to develop her art further, perhaps writing and illustrating children’s books.

Gail’s Story

Gail Harbeck is also an Artability veteran, having exhibited her drawings, paintings, and poetry there for the past five years — and she won first prize in creative writing in 2004. “I’ve always been a writer, but I jumped into the visual arts a few years ago,” she notes. “This summer I’ve been experimenting with acrylics — my focus has been the completion of several portraits, each painted using a different artistic style. I need to mix things up or I get bored!”

Harbeck suffers from major depression, and her art helps keep her grounded and connected with the world. “Art helps me focus my mind — I have trouble with intrusive thoughts, so art helps me concentrate.” Harbeck has used People Incorporated’s Nancy Page Crisis Residence. “Everyone is so respectful and the staff are very helpful, and it’s nice to be amongst peers. It’s great to be able to avoid being admitted to the hospital, where it’s so impersonal and clinical. I find it hard to feel better in a place like that. It’s nice to know Nancy Page [Crisis Residence] is there if I need it.”

Like many other artists who got their start at Artability, Harbeck’s work can be seen in other venues, too — she’s got pieces in the permanent collections at Westminster Presbyterian Church and at the Hennepin County Medical Center. “I’d like to do a cohesive body of work so I could apply for some grants. I’d eventually like to have a small gift shop and art gallery.” She’s looking forward to Artability. “It’s great to see old friends there and meet new ones, too. It’s a relaxed atmosphere, but the art is great—everyone should come see just how many talented artists are here in the Twin Cities.”

Elias’ Story

Elias Luke LaVelle is an Artability veteran, having won three major prizes in the past two years — including first prize in sculpture, first prize in poetry, and the Alex Galle Artability Award. He’s been sculpting, drawing and painting since he was a kid, but art took on a special significance for him after he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.

“Art for me is very therapeutic — it’s a way to express my ideals, hopes, loves, and hates,” he notes. “It’s also a way for me to experience what it’s like to be healthy, by helping me focus my energy and attention.” LaVelle lives at People Incorporated’s Ruth House, a typical ranch-style home in East St. Paul that he shares with four other men. He’s also a member of People Incorporated’s APOLLO Resource Center, and is serving as a volunteer on the Artability Committee this year.

Creative writing is also a significant outlet for LaVelle’s creativity. “I love poetry — it’s who I am. It’s closer to my heart than sculpting even. I wish we could speak in poetic language all the time. I love the fact that poetry is language made beautiful.” LaVelle is starting classes at Metro State University this summer, finishing up some general credits before beginning coursework for a degree in theater. “I like how [theater] combines writing, visual arts, and music, and my goal is to have a positive influence on society through theater. I’ll still have time for Artability, though!”

Nancy Blakestad, a writer and content consultant based in St. Paul.