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The simple idea behind everything we are trying to do with Painted Brain is about connecting people. We are building a small company at the center of our community, and are developing in several areas to help us support the development and growth of this community. Online or in person, in groups, staff meetings, housing facilities, psychiatric hospitals, we recognize the existence or potential for community by asking everyone the same basic question:
“How are you doing today?”
This year we are developing on two new fronts: the personal and the political. On the personal side, we are developing an individualized program to connect with people that express an interest in being involved in our community but for a variety of reasons cannot consistently make that last step of actual participation. Sharon Vincuilla joined our team this year to complete her Doctorate in Occupational Therapy in residency with Painted Brain. Only a couple of weeks into her academic year with us, and with the invaluable support and guidance of Deborah Pitts, USC Professor at the Chan School of Occupational Therapy, Sharon is connecting with our contributors and methodically building the OT practice, Painted Brain-style.
On the political side, I am not talking about policy advocacy or supporting specific candidates, but in exploring the use of art in public spaces, and in the service of starting conversations and bringing people, quite literally, to the table. I am talking about the Art Cart, launched in collaboration with Homeless Health Care and other agencies just last Friday, September 22, 2017. Guided by the wisdom and compassion of our board member, Nick Taylor MPH and his two decades’ experience working with people living on the streets, our team developed safety protocols and outreach guidelines and developing a resource handout. Then Angela Tuckerman, MSW joined the team and gave the final push to get the Art Cart onto the streets. This is a new avenue for Painted Brain, forging connections with people in a public setting, and hopefully creating a safe, moveable space for those living on the streets where they can interact with the currently non-homeless.
We are also developing the Community Arts Intervention as a way to address the social challenges that arise in housing facilities for people just getting off the streets. The unspoken reality of the helpful and well-intentioned Housing First model is that people need help and support in order to live together. What is obvious to anyone who has worked with or known trauma, but perhaps not very obvious to the casual observer, is the awareness that much of the acting-out behavior is fear-based, often justifiably so considering past trauma. I am not naive to the fact that there simply may be a few bad apples in any group of individuals, but most of the animosity and friction that arises between people cohabitating is about communication challenges compounded by traumatic history on all sides. In many ways, we are still just beginning to learn and understand how art can help people. Our Community Arts Intervention for housing facilities is a chance to demonstrate the potential for creative group experiences to improve relationships between people and maybe even foster some lasting friendships.
It has been a challenge to be between spaces, for our community to be homeless, these past few months. Yet, in the quixotic way of all things Painted Brain, fundraising for our new nonprofit has led to new connections and great new relationships with passionate, motivated people who want to open doors, make introductions, and move beyond dreaming of a better world to building one. We are going a little bit slowly on opening our new space to honor the importance of this decision and commitment, and to allow some processes to unfold as they will.
We have made the most of this time without a space, building new alliances with agencies and systems that interact with people facing mental health challenges, including the public mental health system and the justice system. Woven between these two systems is homelessness. We are trying to work with this challenge both on the streets and in the houses for the recently housed.
At the core of our work is connection. We find ways to connect people to each other by facilitating group creativity. We can talk about what we do in terms of attachment theory, or in terms of the social determinants of mental health outcomes, or in terms of symptom reduction, or in terms of cost savings through reduced recidivism and relapse, but really we are just trying to find ways to bring people together. Thanks for adding your wind to our sail.
Dave Leon LCSW is co-founder and director of Painted Brain; his series of editorials entitled Dave’s Brain has been appearing exclusively in Painted Brain News since 2015