I have noticed that lately I have not updated about the class for some time. So, I figured that doing so was needed. Today, I am digging through old photos on my hard drive to find a good image –a figure– to draw from, to use as a source image for a new work. Among the images I am working with is this image of my partner, shot with a digital camera, reclining in bed. This is my pencil rendering: There are a few things currently leading me to change approaches with the class. As I have talked about in other blog posts, over the past fall I was able to travel with a colleague from the Office of Mental Health to The Living Museum in Rockland Psychiatric Center, and the original Living Museum in Queens, NY, at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center. During those times I met with clients of both hospitals who participated in Living Museum activities, as well as had lengthy face-to-face meeting with Chris Randolph (director of the Rockland Living Museum) and Janos Martin (director of the Creedmoor Living Museum). Both Chris Randolph and Janos Martin were very helpful and encouraging, –and excited that a peer run program may be coming to CDPC. CDPC is a much smaller psychiatric hospital, up the Hudson River, in Albany, NY. Both of them, however, recommended that one of the first changes I needed to make to my own program at CDPC was to change my teaching approach. I needed to model on my emerging program on the principles important to the Living Museum programs and other peer programs like it. I had been, as a teacher, essentially approaching the class as a teacher-directed lesson. I had been teaching the class by choosing the topic. I then led the class in developing that particular skill I was teaching.
This was a method that worked well at the not-profit class I was assisting with. Most of my students seemed comfortable with the approach. However, there’s a great deal of merit in the idea of letting mentally ill people direct their own projects. The idea is more than just window dressing, it’s essentially to giving people their own agency to direct their own interests and own their own ideas and projects. My conversation with Dr. Martin, especially, hammered home the idea that this is essential to the therapeutic push of peer/consumer led programming. Perhaps my own illness make me a slow learner, that I need to hear the same impassioned argument made twice to cede a bit of control. But this is the direction I am going. I am determined to have a program like a Living Museum program at this hospital. I would like to turn more control for the program over to peers. So far, my students have been responding well to the changes and are excited. We have a couple big projects coming up: I am doing the Art on Eight exhibit with another talented artist (currently hospitalized) –which is exciting–, and there is a cultural fair I am priming students to develop ideas for. It’s an exciting time for me, making art and teaching at the hospital.