NAMI Healing Art Show showcases work from artists affected by mental illness

14th annual exhibit at Lakeside St. Coffee House ends Saturday, Oct. 31.
Artwork done by artists looking to take the stigma away from mental health are on display at the Lakeside St. Coffee House for NAMI's Healing Art Show
Photo courtesy of Ellie Thompson
Works done by the various artists in the show hang on the wall of the Lakeside St. Coffee House until the end of October.

Art is more than just pleasing to the eye — it can also serve as a coping mechanism for those with mental illnesses, as it does for the artists participating in the 14th Annual Healing Art Show running through Oct. 31.

Hosted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness Wisconsin, the show can be viewed every day through the end of the month at Lakeside St. Coffee House during typical business hours. There is no fee, though patrons are welcome to purchase the artwork and enjoy goodies from Lakeside while attending. For those who can’t see it in person, a video highlighting the artwork can be found on the NAMI Wisconsin website.

“The Healing Art Show’s goal is to bring down the stigma surrounding mental illness,” says Ellie Thompson, communications and events coordinator for NAMI Wisconsin. “Especially for artists who are affected by mental illness, showing that they are not their mental illness and that they have so many creative talents and so many strengths beyond their mental illness.”

Samantha Espinosa is one of several artists featured in the Healing Art Show. Espinosa became involved with NAMI through an affiliate in Monroe County and served as secretary and board member from 2013 to 2019 and as a member of the NAMI Public Policy and Advocacy Committee in 2019. She submitted work to the Healing Art Show for the first time in 2016 and is now a four-year show veteran. In the past Espinosa submitted paintings, but this year she switched things up and submitted a cross-stitch work titled “Badges of Honor: Mental Health.”

“A badge of honor is a mark or expression of pride, something that isn’t often correlated with mental illness,” Espinosa says. “I designed and stitched something that I feel promotes wellness and breaks down [the] stigma associated with mental illness.”

Espinosa’s love for art goes further back than her first year participating in the show. “I’ve enjoyed art and artistic expression since childhood. Art is one of the only things in the world that can be exactly what you want it to be,” she says. “For me, art and creating serves as a coping mechanism, a constructive outlet and a fun hobby.” Espinosa is joined in the show by other artists showcasing their own pieces in a variety of mediums — from mixed media to photography.

Artist Emily Fritts submitted a mixed-media piece titled “Souvenirs,” a colorful image full of little odds and ends. For Fritts, art is a way to help make sense of what’s going on in her head when words fail.

“My mind is a very busy place. It often feels like my brain is an old TV or radio cutting in and out of channels. It can be deeply overwhelming,” Fritts says. “By creating artworks such as the one I have here today, I’m able to express what I otherwise cannot.”

Artist Genevieve Martin submitted her black and white photograph titled “Hope in Darkness.” Photography gave Martin an outlet after a friend’s death when she was unable to find happiness.

“The picture being submitted was taken at what used to be my grandparents’ farm,” Martin says. “The intention of it is to find beauty and meaning in times of loss and to inspire hope.”

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