I first came to Arty-Folks after a prolonged period of turmoil experienced while living in the north of England. During this time I lost my career, home and contact with most of my friends and family. Eventually after spending a Christmas and New Year’s Eve living in a section of concrete drain pipe on a Blackpool car park I made my way to Coventry, my home town, more by accident than choice.
Not long after moving here I was sectioned under the mental health act, spending a month in a psychiatric ward. To be forced into such a confined, tense and controlled environment was traumatic, particularly as I did not believe I was mentally ill but just going through a rough period. After being discharged I was introduced to Arty-Folks and soon found the atmosphere to be really welcoming. Unfortunately, the neighbours where I was living were very antisocial and threatening, and I then went through another bout of mental illness that even I could recognise as real and serious. Once again I found myself in the psychiatric hospital this time for three months. While I was in there (voluntarily this time) Arty-Folks staff visited me and made my 60th birthday which fell on a Friday 13th and a full moon! I hadn’t celebrated my birthday in many many years and reading the card with best wishes from my friends at Arty-Folks I felt that there were people out there who genuinely cared about me.
When I left hospital Arty-Folks staff helped me move to my new home and I started to attend the art sessions again. I found returning to the group very helpful. Members from all sorts of backgrounds suffer with a variety of conditions and have developed so many differing coping strategies which are shared when chatting while doing the artwork. No one is judgemental and no matter how mild or severe or your condition it can be discussed with the group without embarrassment or fear of ridicule. Often someone would say something about their history, thoughts and feelings, that can give real insight into your own as seen through different eyes. The art projects that Arty-Folks artists set allow your emotions to be projected onto a variety of media and enable you to examine what, within your own mind and soul, forms, the patterns and colours of your work. I found the session at the end of each project where the group take it in turn to interpret each others work really interesting; hearing what others feel your work represents can be very informative. This, like the chat around the table, often gives insight to your own feelings and deeper thoughts that you, perhaps, had not been able to see yourself before. We also went on some very interesting trips to other art venues which also helped widen our immersion in art and our ability to interpret its meanings.
For me Arty-Folks was not about becoming a great artist, any level of ability can participate, It was about mending or improving myself through art. I believe Arty-Folks approach to therapeutic art has taught me how to look into my own self and understand more of the emotions and character traits that shape my behaviour, so to better know how to bring out the best in myself. It was also great to work with a group of mutually supportive people, peers and staff, who genuinely care about each other. After four years I have reached the next stage of my recovery and will be leaving Arty-Folks but will miss it greatly. I feel probably for the first time at home, safe and a part of the community, with friends to call on, and with interests and hobbies that make me feel my life is worth living. I would recommend Arty-Folks to anyone who is looking for support to turn their lives around.