Hopeful Voice art program for people with mental illness

Tue Jun 19, 2013


A small gathering in Penrith in 2009 to enable people with a lived experience of mental illness to develop creative skills and express stories of recovery through art has blossomed into one of Sydney’s most dynamic and diverse art programs and exhibitions in 2013.

RichmondPRA’s fifth annual ‘Hopeful Voice’ art program is on target to draw more than 150 participants from across the Western Sydney region.

The culmination will be an exhibition of hundreds of works at Penrith’s Regional Gallery and the Lewers Bequest during Mental Health Week in October.

2013 sees a major shift away from just paintings and drawings, with participants also being guided on and participating in sculpture, photography, jewellery design and poetry.

2013 is also a milestone year because for the first time every workshop will be run by individuals who have both a background in art and a lived experience of mental illness. This is a result of the programs burgeoning profile, which has attracted so many people wanting to take up tuition and mentoring roles.

Hopeful Voice was conceived when RichmondPRA’s Penrith-based staff teamed up with local University art student volunteers to run a series of drawing and painting workshops for RichmondPRA clients living with a mental illness.

About 20 participants took part in the initial workshops, with works produced ending up on public display. Many were sold to private buyers.

Given that art is becoming more recognised as a creative, expressive and therapeutic outlet for people with a mental illness, the concept has since grown beyond everyone’s expectations.

Participants also obtain a sense of participation, achievement and fulfilment by joining the various workshops on offer.

RichmondPRA has also rolled the Hopeful Voice concept out to other locations across New South Wales, off the back of the success in Penrith.

“No one expected that such a humble initiative back in 2009 would grow into such a big thing by 2013,” RichmondPRA Community Arts Coordinator Jane Miller said.

“We have been inundated with enquiries from people wanting to participate.

“We urge anyone and everyone with an interest in art to come along.

“This program means so much to people who live with a mental illness because it gives them such a unique outlet of expression.

“Participants often put their hearts and souls into telling their stories through their artistic creations.

“Once on display, the works usually go a long way to breaking down stigmas around mental illness, giving viewers all sorts of insights into what living with a mental illness means.”

Ms Miller said it’s an incredibly positive outcome that the program is now largely run by people with a lived experience of mental illness.

“It says something that so many people living with a mental illness and expertise in art have stepped forward to get involved,” Ms Miller added.

“This really caps the program off as a premier event for people living with a mental illness.”

RichmondPRA CEO Pam Rutledge said The Hopeful Voice program was having an impact in areas far beyond Penrith, where the concept of getting people with a lived experience of mental illness involved in art originated.

“Our community arts program is producing fantastic works across New South Wales,” Ms Rutledge said.

“The works go a long way to breaking down stereotypes about mental illness and building confidence and self-esteem among the artists themselves."

The local workshops are being run at RichmondPRA’s office at 1/80 Henry Street, Penrith on 29th May, 26th June, 31st July, 28th August and 25th September. There are 2 sessions: 11.30 – 1.30 for 16 – 25 year olds, and 2.00 – 4.00 for all ages. There is also a painting and drawing group at Westclub at 252 High Street Penrith on the 24th June and the 8th July from 11.30 – 1.30.

Participation enquiries should be directed to Jane Miller on 9393 9000

RichmondPRA is a not-for-profit organisation providing recovery focussed support programs, accommodation and hope for people with a mental illness in New South Wales and Queensland. Advocating community-based assistance, it is a leading mental health support provider that has been in operation for more than 55 years.

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Matthew Watson
Repute Communications & Associates
9220 3553 / 0417 691 884