At the Luhman Center for Supportive Living, a transitional living facility for mentally ill male adults in El Cajon, you come across a group of 40 men, all a character within their own. However having faced endless discrimination and rejection in their lives there is a sense of isolation, discouragement, and lack of engagement in social activities.
In order to break the feeling of alienation among these men an art program was introduced at the Luhman Center through Volunteers of America Southwest’s Chaplin and ministry.
With a desire to do something out of their ordinary routine and find ways to express themselves, the residents took part in exploring different techniques of painting, working together, and learning through art. In conjunction with the art lessons, one could see the social hesitation started to dissolve and that art started to change the social dynamic of the Luhman residents.
Through the collaboration of these men, their perspective on life, and their new art education, they produced something truly beautiful- a large acrylic on canvas colorful piece of artwork. Their art piece, The Beginning, was chosen to be a part of the Martha Pace Swift Museum’s exhibition “Recovering the Artist-IV.
Volunteers of America Southwest brought the Luhman residents to the museum and when the elevator doors opened the Luhman resident’s eyes lit up; in the center of the exhibition hung their project. Feeling proud and accomplished the men engaged with each other discussing their art, as well as taking an interest in the other pieces filling the room. Sparking some discussion, Gerald, a Luhman resident and collaborator on the Luhman art piece, “I wonder what other people see when they look at the art piece we created.” Seeing the art displayed led the Luhman clients to think about not just what they saw on the painting, but how the experience as whole made them feel. “I like our art, the bright colors and different shapes. It felt good seeing it displayed in a museum. I would want to do this again,” Joey, a Luhman resident, expressed while leaving the museum.
As the late Henri Matisse said, “creativity takes courage.” A lesson proven by the Luhman residents, by allowing the world to see how they think and interact through art; they began to break down their walls of isolation and open new channels of expression. Through the art program the men are finding new ways of social interaction and mental stimulation, fueling collaboration and a further discovery of confidence and courage.