Updated: Oct 1, 2021
Anne Arundel artists who have been recovering from addiction and abuse have put their creative gifts on display virtually for the public to view via Maryland Hall’s “Art of Recovery” show. The results have impressed viewers, and helped the artists themselves by bringing them one step farther along their recovery journeys.
“The people who have seen it were really amazed,” said Catherine Gray, clinical director of the Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency. “Some of the people used the word ‘compelling’. They were touched by it—they enjoyed it.”
Gray and the agency’s special project care coordinator, Dania Blair, got working on making the show happen last June, in the middle of the pandemic. Blair also functions as the exhibit’s guest curator. They immediately put a call out to artists.
“Their recovery story is worth a lot and they are worth a lot,” Blair said.
The outreach over the summer was in the form of a flier sent out to local recovery centers.
“I put it up everywhere I could,” she said. “I was asking people to share their visual journey. That’s what started it.”
At first the response was lackluster, in part because of the pandemic. But then Blair began engaging the centers first hand, by visiting them. And word of mouth got around.
“The ones that did participate were really, really excited,” she said. “I looked at all those places and got a lot of response.”
She ended up with 40 to 50 pieces of art from places like the Chrysalis House, Arundel Lodge, Pathways, and J Kent McKnew Family Medical Center.
There were both first-time artists, as well as veteran creatives participating in the show. They worked in multiple mediums including oils, acrylic, cross stitch, fabric and more.
The show was the catalyst for furthering the art career of at least one participant. Sarah Kampsen, is an artist from Annapolis who specializes in fine art, design and tattoos. Kampsen, who is a native of Germany, prefers to pursue Classical Realism in her work.
"I lept at the idea (of the show)," Kampsen said. "Because I know how hopeless it feels to be an artist and think that nothing is ever going to come of it, and I knew I wasn't the only one."
Her art has always had an influence on her recovery journey, she said.
"I feel like it's always been an out for me," she said. "But knowing that it isn't something that has to be hidden or stay hidden is really motivating for me--to know that there are people who do want to see this."
Kampsen said she is reaching toward fulfilling her goal of being a full-time professional artist.
“(She) has left her recovery house, gone out on her own and is getting her own art website,” Blair said of Kampsen. “She did some really beautiful things and it gave her the confidence to branch out on her own.”
It’s been known art can be beneficial to both behavioral and mental health recovery for decades now. This the first time the Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency has planned, designed and executed a specific exhibit, although they have incorporated it into programming for a long time.
Blair said the creation of is a positive emotional outlet for coping with behavioral issues, but it also encourages reflection on those feelings.
“When they see what they’ve done they look inside to see what they were feeling,” she explained.
Those feelings can span a spectrum--from hopefulness and feelings of freedom, to darkness.
“One of the ladies did this black whole in her heart (art piece),” Gray said. “She was recognizing it in herself. It was interesting.” That artist has suffered from abuse from family members.
Everyone’s recovery looks different, the clinical director said, and the particular art that is expressed may depend on where the artist is in their recovery.
“Recovery is your own journey—your own story,” she said. “This is a way to share that journey with others.”
Neighbors can support those journey financially in some cases. Some of the art pieces at the Art of Recovery show are available for purchase.
There are also plans in the works for another exhibit in 2022. Art of Recovery’s curator is seeking additional venues for the current exhibit, once the Maryland Hall show comes to a close.
“We can gather ourselves and start again,” Gray said.
But Blair has already dropped off additional art supplies to the area recovery centers, so there may already be pieces being created right now that will eventually appear in the next show.
“If we can promote art in recovery...it’s just such a reward,” Gray said. “To see the actual pieces hung in a gallery—it’s exhilarating!”