The thrill for Lorraine Johnson, hasn't worn off. When she was a student in high school, she regularly got A’s in math and English, but flunked art. She says she never dreamed that someday her art might hang in a gallery.
But that’s exactly where two of her art pieces and other works created by Pathway Homes residents were; hanging in the Workhouse Arts Center in Lorton for the entire world to see. Lorraine and twenty others were featured in this year’s Summer of the Arts Exhibition, which ran from August 6th through the 14th.
The annual Summer of the Arts Exhibition showcases the creativity of many of our community members who are living with mental illness. This year’s theme, Courage and Determination, captured our residents’ use of art to express their journey to recovery from mental illness. The event provides a wonderful opportunity for the individuals Pathway Homes serves by making it possible for them to display their artwork publicly at an event that many look forward to all year.
Well over one hundred people attended the artists’ reception that was held on August 9th, including art lovers, community partners, residents, staff, local artists, local officials, friends, and families. All were impressed with the talent on display and enjoyed speaking to the artists about their inspiration, technique and media. This exhibition and reception not only showed the community that recipients of mental health services are gifted and talented, but demonstrates that these individuals are more than their illnesses. It was a wonderful opportunity for Pathways resident artists to network with art lovers.
For the artists, the thrill was having their work displayed in a real, working art gallery. Johnson recalled thinking as she walked in and saw the artwork on display, “Oh Lord! Is this me? Am I here? Is this really happening?” She described the sense of both encouragement and empowerment she got from the experience - “It just felt so good. I have hope, my faith is strengthened, and I’m even more motivated to continue down this path in my life.”
Pathway Homes’ President and CEO Sylisa Lambert-Woodard was just as impacted by the talent on display, “I was blown away by the level of self-expression and creation that I saw on display at this year’s exhibit. We believe in the idea of ‘the good life’, and this event provides people in our community living with mental illness with a feeling of accomplishment and a means for recovery. The Summer of the Arts Exhibition not only helps raise awareness, but it also gives our participants a time to creatively express themselves in unique and beautiful ways and to share that directly with our community.”
The artists’ varied and diverse life experiences bring unique perspectives to their creative efforts and subject matter, with styles ranging from the realistic to the abstract. For Lorraine Johnson, the process remains as mysterious to her as to a non-artist - “When I start a new piece, I never know what’s going to happen. I just start by asking ‘What can I do that’s different?’ And when I finish I’m just as surprised as anyone else by what it turns out to be. When I look at what I’ve created, I’m amazed. But it also helps me realize that dreams are possible. It gives me hope, and inspires me to keep on. I know that if I would not have had the experiences I’ve had with my illness and being homeless, I would not be here today, creating these works that speak to me.”
The annual Summer of the Arts Exhibition honors Karen Free, a long-time resident of Pathway Homes and an accomplished artist, who passed away in 2011. In memory of Karen’s love of art and culture, the Free family established the Karen Free Art and Recreation Recovery Fund to provide opportunities for Pathway Homes’ residents to explore and enjoy the arts.
Pathway Homes congratulates all the artists who contributed to the success of this event with their art and presence, and thanks them for their participation! Your willingness to share your talent with others has given hope to so many others who now see this as a possibility in their journey of recovery! We also extend our thanks to Pathway Homes Board Member, Jennifer Judelsohn, who curated the exhibit again this year.