Breaking Ground 95 -Changing Lives through Art

by Jane Baxter

Art can be a powerful tool in the recovery process, as it is approachable, empowering and broadly appreciated. Healing Arts Project, Inc. (HAPI) exists to provide this unique tool through arts opportunities for Middle Tennesseans in mental health and addiction recovery. Founded in 2004, HAPI began as an advocacy group that produced public exhibitions of art created by individuals in mental health and addiction recovery. The goal was to raise awareness and understanding in the community.

As time went on, the individuals HAPI served began asking HAPI’s volunteer leaders for more artistic opportunities – more art exhibitions, art supplies and art classes. The organization grew and changed to fill more needs in the community. HAPI now provides 250+ free art classes at 14 peer-support centers, over a dozen public exhibitions and numerous outreach programs and publications every year. HAPI’s mission is to provide artistic opportunities for persons in mental health and addiction recovery to promote healing, community awareness and inclusion.

HAPI’s art classes serve approximately 500 individuals in mental health and addiction recovery each year. HAPI’s professional art teachers create curriculum focused on basic art principles and techniques, with the flexibility to adapt it to students’ particular needs and interests. Some class participants have been drawn to art for a long time, but never before had the support system to pursue it as a consistent part of their lives. Others had never made art before and are amazed at what they can create and the joy it brings them. All participants enjoy exploring new, artistic ways to express themselves and interact with others in the classroom and beyond.

The differences HAPI has seen in the lives of the individuals it serves have been extraordinary. HAPI participants have reported on art class surveys how art has influenced them, saying that art classes make a positive impact in their lives, gives them a new way to cope, and that artistic practice increases their self-esteem and ability to interact socially with others. Many participants who were shy and withdrawn have now become active members of the artistic community, forming friendships with classmates and attending public HAPI exhibitions and programs.

When participants see their art displayed in a HAPI exhibition, it builds their self-esteem and personal fulfillment. The exhibitions share a message of hope and understanding with the community. They are free and held in public libraries and community centers, ensuring that all can have access. Viewed by approximately 29,000 people annually, HAPI exhibitions celebrate the abilities of the artists and build support for their artistic activities in the recovery process.

Many of the artworks on display at HAPI’s exhibitions and programs are available for purchase. When their artwork is sold, artists receive a commission. In this way, HAPI connects the beautiful artwork created by talented individuals in recovery with the public to enjoy and purchase, which has in turn made the artists feel respected, proud and hopeful. Members of the community have more understanding that persons in mental health and addiction recovery make positive contributions to the community.

HAPI also presents a fundraiser, the Phoenix Art Gala, every February to promote the artists and allow art lovers to contribute to HAPI by being a sponsor or by purchasing art. HAPI artists attend to share their art and interact with community advocates who can meet the artists, purchase special artworks and contribute to HAPI’s services.

Participating in Healing Arts Project, Inc. and gaining positive recognition for their talent has helped many individuals gain self-confidence and self-respect, which carries over into their everyday life and empowers them in their pursuit of recovery. Participants find that creative arts help them focus, control their thoughts and bring them peace.  

Healing Arts Project, Inc. is supported by generous funding from Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Tennessee Arts Commission, Metro Nashville Arts Commission, and other funding partners.