Unless it’s something really embarrassing, people are pretty open about talking about their medical conditions. But that same openness and support doesn’t exist for mental health issues, which affect about 1 in 5 Americans – except you don’t see stickers on the back of cars for Social Anxiety Awareness. Jeff Sparr and Matt Kaplan, co-founders of PeaceLove Studios, are looking to change the conversation about mental illness through art.
“Jeff made it okay to talk about his Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and to get support: from medication, a loving family and also painting,” Matt says. “We saw how art could change the conversation and get people to tell their story. Some people can’t tell their story verbally, but you’d be shocked how they can express themselves authentically through art.” PeaceLove provides therapeutic art sessions to those living with mental illness, or who are overcoming trauma. They’ve been so successful – the organization gets hundreds of requests per month from people and organizations across the country who want to bring the program to their communities – that they’ve launched a Creators Network, which is an intensive expressive arts training program that just graduated its first class this spring and will train 60 people next year. PeaceLove is also opening its second location in Las Vegas in September as part of Zappos founder Tony Hseih’s Downtown Project. “When you talk about illness, it’s very limiting,” Matt says. “When you talk about wellness and creativity, it’s for everybody. We’re all striving for improved mental wellness.”