A sense of belonging was essential to Shauna MacLeod’s recovery from mental illness.
Knowing how much it helped, she felt compelled to create a place that evoked a similar feeling for others experiencing mental illness.
That place, the Willow Arts Community, now lives within Brock’s Rodman Hall Art Centre.
The two organizations received a provincial honour Monday, Nov. 19 for their efforts working together, taking home the Key Partnership Award at the Ontario Association of Art Galleries annual awards gala.
“Willow Arts Community’s tagline is ‘Belong, Empower, Create,’” says MacLeod. “The community aspect is as important as the art creation. Social isolation has a measurable impact on health and wellness. We aim to provide a place where friendships are developed , and people are celebrated for their abilities.”
MacLeod established Willow Arts Community in 2015 to provide a support network where individuals who self-identify as having lived experience with mental illness or addiction can explore their creativity in a safe environment while participating in their own recovery.
Willow Arts Community has been based at Rodman Hall since March 2017. The partnership gave the organization space for art workshops and visibility as a legitimate organization. Membership has since grown to more than 150 people.
“Most of our members had never engaged with our arts community or would feel that they could before joining the Willow,” MacLeod says.
The Willow Arts Community offers free programming to adults who have lived experience with mental illness or addiction. Each year the organization offers dozens of free art workshops, hosts seasonal art exhibitions, provides peer-led open studio time and participates in community events such as Culture Days and In the Soil.
The group has also released a full album of original music, Songs from the Willow, which was the culmination of a six-month music program working with musician Joe Lapinski.
MacLeod is very keen on stigma reduction.
“Often when people write about Willow Arts Community, the language is about people suffering from mental illness and addictions,” she says. “Yes, sometimes we suffer. But sometimes we thrive. We laugh, sing Beatles songs during art class, we cry when our art takes us to a vulnerable place, and we celebrate the moments that bring us joy.”
“That is the very real impact of what we do.”
The public is invited to the opening of the Willow’s next art exhibition Thursday, Dec. 13, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Rodman Hall.
The Rodman Hall Art Centre exhibition catalogue “Sarindar Dhaliwal: The Radcliffe Line and Other Geographies,“ designed by Lauren Wickware, was also nominated for three awards at Monday’s awards gala and won Exhibition Catalogue Design.