Fellowship Place’s Artists Step Out
by| May 6, 2016 6:20 am
Eugene Magliaro’s acrylic on canvas painting is all grays and blacks. It is by his own description a stark vision, grim and apocalyptic. Yet its most important feature, from which it gets its name, is the “green herb budding” at the lower left of the composition.Magliaro said that makes the picture’s theme a triumph of optimism against great odds.
That conversation about the expressive and healing power of the arts emerged Wednesday evening at the Expressive Arts Festival, the first ever of its kind organized by Fellowship Place, which supplies counseling, supportive services, and vocational training to people struggling with mental illness.The event — featuring readings of poetry, a show of individual and collaborative group paintings, a drum circle, and musical performances by Fellowship Place’s own band — drew dozens of artists and their families and admirers.
“Everything you see here — music, writing, art, food service,” like the sweet and tangy bruschetta with olive tapenade prepared and served by Lamont Green, came out of the artistic workshops and training programs at Fellowship Place, said the group’s executive director, Mary Guerrera.The inaugural festival kicked off a local celebration for May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, by bringing the artworks of people with mental illness off of the group’s Elm Street campus and out into the public, at the headquarters of Musical Intervention on Temple Street. More than 90 paintings, drawings, and mixed media works were also being offered for sale.
The moving event was evidence against the stigma that people with mental illness creating art is art therapy, not the real thing. However, the festival also made clear that making art could have impressive therapeutic effects. “I get this tranquility, it’s very calming,” said Magliaro, who, in addition to painting, also plays in the Fellowship Place band.
Pat Croke, another of the artists, was showing acrylic, oil, and pastel works she had done herself, as well as a collaborative painting she worked on under the guidance of Fellowship Place’s teacher Kyle Barreuther.Croke, who worked for years as an occupational therapist, said that as a young painter she always felt lonely when working solo, but not when collaborating or in a class.
Spoken word talents were also on display. Francis Shannon read from his own works — including a statement he prepared when he was part of a Fellowship Place group lobbying Hartford legislators — as well as from a number of anonymously submitted works about the power of expressiveness.
Shannon said he used to be a book reviewer and, in addition to the Fellowship Place once-a-week class, writes every day. He had not been in front of an audience reading his own work in a while, but he was not nervous.
He recalled advice on the matter that someone had given him years ago, paraphrasing the entertainer Ethel Merman: You look out at the audience, make some eye contact, and tell yourself that if they could do it any better than you, they would.
Fellowship Place board member Anne Demchak said Shannon’s reading was articulate, emotional, and moving. After the readings, the selections, called Voices of Fellowship, were put on sale, along with the paintings.The festival was made possible in part by funding from the city’s community arts grant program. Guerrera said she’d like to make the festival an annual event. For that to happen, about $5,000 in dedicated new funding will have to be raised every year, she added.
The agency is serving more and more people, up to about 700 this year, Guerrera said.
In addition to vocational training, expressive arts classes, case management, and the daily socializing that the Elm Street clubhouse offers, a number of clients, like Eugene Magliaro, live in supportive housing on the group’s tidy campus.“Fellowship Place is the place to go,” said Inok Magliaro, Eugene’s mother. “He’s become more independent,” she said of her son. “I don’t know what I’d do without it.”
This year Magliaro took the lead in raising money to purchase spiffy uniforms for the the group’s baseball team, on which her son also plays