SAMHSA’s Resource Center to Promote Acceptance,
Dignity and Social Inclusion Associated with
Mental Health (ADS Center)
Capitol Showcase Consumer Art Exhibit
In August 2002, the first Voice and Vision Consumer Art Exhibition was sponsored by the Alabama Department of Mental Health & Mental Retardation (DMHMR) and held at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA). For three years, the annual exhibition held at the MMFA was a juried show limited to 30 pieces of art by consumers of the DMHMR. In 2005, in an effort to be more inclusive, the exhibition was moved to the Alabama State Capitol and more entries were allowed in the show. The name was changed to the Capitol Showcase Consumer Art Exhibit, and though entries still went through a screening process, more than 100 pieces of art were displayed in a prominent location in the Capitol. Since 2005, the annual month-long exhibit continues to showcase more than 100 pieces of consumer art. This year’s exhibit is scheduled for the fall. A call for entries will be distributed soon.
The Office of Public Information is constantly looking for ways to disseminate a positive message to the public about the abilities of the people they serve. Traditionally, the DMHMR uses public service announcements and some paid ads on billboards, TV, and radio. Additionally, the office promotes feature stories in newspapers and publications about initiatives or personal stories from consumers to educate and inspire the public.
When a group of consumer artists in Montgomery wanted to have an art show in 2002, the office immediately saw the potential for the show as an activity to counter discrimination and social exclusion. The Commissioner at that time was able to persuade the MMFA to allow an exhibit. The first show and subsequent annual exhibits in the Capitol have engendered notable media attention at the artist receptions. Many more people are educated and inspired through the month-long display as they view the art and associated stories about the artists.
The Capitol Showcase Consumer Art Exhibit is a partnership between the department’s Office of Public Information and representatives from each of the department’s three services divisions: Intellectual Disabilities, Mental Illness, and Substance Abuse. Each year during late spring a Call for Entries brochure is distributed to consumers at various conferences and through mailing lists and other distribution channels to promote the art exhibit and announce the acceptance of entries. This brochure provides information to consumers about deadlines for submissions, entry rules, information about the screening process, and guidelines about submitting their story. Upon receiving entries, they are screened and if accepted, a letter of acceptance is mailed to the consumer inviting them to a reception at the Capitol on their behalf.
Once all entries have been received, they are cataloged along with their accompanying story. For each artist, both of these pieces are displayed at the State Capitol for a period of one month. A reception for all consumer artists and their family and friends is held during the month that features an opening message from the Commissioner and the awarding of participation certificates to each individual artist.
In addition to the Call for Entries brochure, posters advertising the art exhibit are placed in the Capitol. The event is promoted in department newsletters, as well as on its Web site. Further, two press releases about the exhibit are distributed to the media statewide. One promotes the art exhibit itself, and the other promotes the reception for consumer artists.
The Capitol Showcase Consumer Art Exhibit is one of the department’s most successful public education campaigns. Now gearing up for its 5th year, it consistently brings in more than 100 art entries from consumers. Each spring, they routinely receive phone calls from consumers and providers asking when the call for entries will be coming out. The artist reception is always well attended by the artists and their family and friends. It consistently receives media coverage, which further promotes the art exhibit and broader purpose to the general public. Mike Autrey, Director of Consumer Affairs for the DMHMR said, “I know of no other program in the State that showcases the abilities of consumers more than this one. It is an honor for any artist to have their work placed in the State Capitol building. Many of our consumer artists have expressed pride and gratitude for the opportunity to tell their story and display their work in the Capitol.”
Additionally, the stories shared by the participants are powerful. For consumer artists with mental illnesses, intellectual disabilities, or substance use disorders, the exhibit is about more than just their art. They also have the opportunity to share their heartfelt testimonies about the obstacles they have overcome in their lives as their personal stories are displayed next to their respective piece of art. Often, visitors have been observed reading the inspiring stories with great interest. The Capitol Showcase Consumer Art Exhibit is an excellent vehicle to counter negative attitudes associated with mental illness or substance use disorders, promote consumer talents, and raise awareness about recovery.
For further information about the Capitol Showcase contact John Ziegler, Alabama DMHMR, 100 North Union Street, Suite 518, Montgomery, AL 36130-1410, 334-242-3417,firstname.lastname@example.org, www.mh.alabama.gov.