Free Art Exhibit on May 19 to Showcase Work of Those in Community Mental Health Programs

The Maryland Coalition for Mental Health Awareness has come together once again to present the fourth annual art exhibit featuring artwork from artists across Maryland’s community mental health and peer support programs. This annual event conveys what recovery means from the eyes of consumers living with mental illness every day and shows others that recovery is possible. The theme of this year’s event is Walk in My Shoes: Raising Mental Health Awareness Through Art. The art will be on display this Thursday, May 19, at the American Visionary Art Museum, Jim Rouse Building, 3rd Floor, located at 800 Key Highway, Baltimore, from 1-5 p.m.  The Maryland Coalition for Mental Health Awareness is comprised of providers, community education and advocacy groups, as well as interested community members. Visit to learn more.

One out of five individuals live with mental illness and only 41% of the people who had a mental illness in the past year received care, often as a result of stigma and other barriers.  Art has been proven to be a highly effective component of a person’s treatment plan.  The event, held during Mental Health Month, the event intends to raise awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

In addition to the art exhibit, the event will feature many special guests including Maryland’s First Lady, Mrs. Yumi Hogan, an artist panel discussion, a performance by local Emmy-nominated singer/songwriter, ellen cherry, a collaborative art project and the presentation of the Coalition’s Building Bridges Award.  The 2016 award will be given to Peter Bruun, founder of the New Day Campaign, which uses art-based programming and public engagement to challenge stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness and substance use, making the world a more healing place.  The inaugural run of the campaign occurred October through December, 2015, over 92 days, and included 16 art exhibitions and 63 free public events.  The community outreach campaign opened hearts, changed thinking and conversations, and offered pathways to action in the Baltimore region.

The event is generously sponsored by Terrapin Pharmacy, Behavioral Health Systems Baltimore, Maryland Coalition of Families, NAMI Maryland, On Our Own of Maryland, People Encouraging People, Villa Maria Continuum and with support from many other local and statewide agencies.

The Maryland Coalition for Mental Health Awareness is comprised of the Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland, On Our Own of Maryland, NAMI Maryland, the Mental Health Association of Maryland, the Maryland Coalition of Families, the Behavioral Health Administration and many dedicated community members. We are working to raise public awareness of mental illness and recovery, and reduce stigma through education and outreach.

Interview with Baltimore City muralist, Justin Nethercut


Concerted Care Group Baltimore, a community-based integrated care center located in central Baltimore, has commissioned a mural on the outside wall of their facility with a powerful message: recovery from addiction is possible and achievable. The artist, Baltimore City muralist, Justin Nethercut, discusses his work and the relationship between art and mental health.

Why murals?

Street art and murals and all types of public art are really great for poking at ignored issues and trying to put them in the public light. It’s a very, not always when it is legal,  but it is a very uncensored form of art and it’s a great method to tackle difficult issues and sometimes in a way that is a lot easier than politics.

How has mental health issues and/or substance abuse played a role in your life and relationships? 

I would say an extra reason this project is important to me and meaningful is it affects me personally, as well. A lot of it is just growing up in Baltimore and seeing a lot of the city and a lot of people struggling with addiction and there’s not enough resources to help. And personally, having friends who have overdosed and ones who are currently dealing with addiction and trying to conquer it. The subject is something that I have stayed away from, maybe because it is personal and maybe because doing work that deals with addiction in the public light is sometimes difficult to do in the right way and in a way that everyone wants to see it. It’s a lot about symbolism and tying meaning into images that are beautiful and still touching on the issues.

Can you explain some of the symbolism in the piece that you’re working on?

In the piece there is a central character that is standing in water. The background is water and a sky that transitions from nighttime to sunrise. In talking to a lot of the patients at CCG, there were a lot of concepts that everyone felt, and one of them was the act of stepping out of the darkness into light and how hard it is. People talked a lot about flowers, which is something I was excited about. You can deal with very intense issues with flowers and it brings a lot of beauty and speaks to the deeper issues. She is holding a lotus flower, which has a lot of symbolism including overcoming hardship. She’s turning toward the light and away form the dark. The lotus is symbolic of the beauty of her character, her strength, and she is trying to save it as petals drift into the dark. On the dark side, the moon is setting while on the light side the sun is rising. And to pay tribute to and honor the people who have unfortunately overdosed in the city, we are going to have a star for every person who overdosed last year, to pay tribute to everyone who fell victim to this disease.

Individuals experiencing mental health or substance abuse issues experience a lot of stigma, discrimination, and stereotyping. Do you think art can play a role in challenging that prejudice?

Absolutely, that’s my way into this issue. It’s very interesting…It’s a staple of the discourse in the city. In Baltimore, as I see it, there is a large amount of people addicted to drugs, mainly opiates, who try to get help but there’s not enough treatment centers in many neighborhoods who need the most help. So it creates this situation of “recovery deserts.” Because of that there are clusters where there are a high number of clinics. And neighborhood associations, who are mainly homeowners who value the beauty and property value and other factors of their neighborhoods, understandably. They don’t want to see addiction visually in their streets. On the other side of it, because a lot of these neighborhoods have people experiencing addiction who are looking for recovery and they should have that option. Everyone kind of wants one next door but not in their neighborhood.  Art is a really good way to jump into it. From my standpoint, there is a lot of political bickering and conflict but the thing that is really positive and great about this issue is a lot of the centers and neighborhoods want the same thing. They want a beautiful community that is kept up by all and they want the people that are struggling in the neighborhood to get help. And the centers play that role. Art can play to a lot of the mutual interests of both the clinics and the neighborhoods.  Because murals and the things that may happen because of a mural, like the landscaping and other efforts, all of a sudden you have a bunch of people who are victims of the stigma and looked down upon by a lot of the neighborhoods and home owners; these are the people who are creating concepts for murals, helping paint murals, cleaning lots and doing landscaping in the neighborhood. The mural and the beautification projects is a way for everyone to try to step to. Right now the problem is there’s so much stigma and discrimination against those who are struggling and need help, there’s just no conversation. And you can’t have positive growth without talking.

It seems that people aren’t offered many opportunities that are easily accessible to give back to their community and to see something they’ve contributed to.

And it is work practice, and getting your hands dirty and developing some skills, hopefully.  Just getting your strokes in on the wall means a lot to people.

One thing I say a lot is own your city. This is your city; take responsibility for it. Don’t shrug it off to the next person. That is what created a lot of the problems in Baltimore from really all sides. When people take ownership of not only their own recovery, but also the recovery of others and the recovery of their neighborhood, that’s just great.

Have you experienced stigma or discrimination in your professional life?

I have been trying to push this conversation and I’m glad its happening.

In the Baltimore art scene, because of limited resources, because of the long history of segregation, the redlining and all these other factors that have created two Baltimore’s:  black Baltimore and a white Baltimore. This has very much crossed over into the art scene, as well. Since the uprising there’s been a real focus on unity and bringing people together from different walks of life, different areas of Baltimore, different color skin, and so on. It’s been really interesting and birthed a lot of murals in Baltimore, which has been really great. But with stigma and growing up in such a segregated city its been something that, a lot of the work I do is saying, there’s all these invisible lines and barriers that exist, I’m just saying screw it. I’m not living by where I’m told to go, the neighborhoods I’m told to collaborate with, a lot of the content I’m supposed to speak to.

Does that play a factor in where you create and display your art?

In part because it is where people are more comfortable with my content, but a lot of struggling neighborhoods that’s where you find my a lot of my art. Partly, because I’m into it for my political and social reasons, and because those are the issues I care about and that is where I want my content.

When I cross over Fulton or Eutaw, or whatever line there is in Baltimore, a lot of that is saying screw theses boundaries. The conversations that I have with people and the content I develop, that’s always really a remarkable thing.  Just talking to a white boy from north Baltimore if you’re a black man or woman from west Baltimore or anything like that, those types of experiences where we collaborate together is what breaks down those barriers. A lot of it is I like meeting people, working with other people, developing relationships with people all over the city.

And art is your avenue for that?

Street art is how I am able to do that rather than painting on a canvas indoors.

What is the inspiration for your character and why do you see only part of the face?

I decided to cut off the top of the characters face for two reasons. One reason is, I want it to be someone that everyone can see themselves in, in a certain way. I wanted the character to be anonymous. The character being anonymous directly speaks to a lot of the stigma of addiction. Working with many people in recovery, a lot of people are embarrassed; they don’t want to get help, they don’t want to label themselves as an addict. There’s stigma and pre-conceived notions and negative stereotypes.

I really want to have an actual figure in the piece because talking to a lot of people, there is, and in my opinion rightfully so, an incredible pride in going through recovery. You know, I’ve never been addicted to opiates. I’ve never kicked that habit. I can’t honestly say anything I’ve done in my life is that hard

I was talking to a CCG client the other day who said he has this rap sheet, there’s a lot of stuff on it. Whether its burglary, possession, distribution. And when someone goes to apply for a job they see that, and say, ‘someone did all of that?’. And he says, “Yes, I did that stuff but I did that when I was high on dope. And now I’m not and that was the biggest accomplishment I’ve ever made and I am a totally different person now.” And to me, I see that you overcame that. That’s very impressive and shows incredible strength where a lot of people see it as an incredible weakness.

– by Calla Jamison


MCMHA Hosts 4th Annual Art Event May 19


The Maryland Coalition for Mental Health Awareness, in celebration of May being Mental Health Awareness Month, will host its 4th Annual Art Event on May 19 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the American Visionary Art Museum.

This year’s event, Walk in My Shoes: Raising Mental Health Awareness Through Art, will feature artwork from artists across Maryland’s community mental health and peer support programs and helps to show what recovery means from the eyes of consumers living with mental illness every day and to show others that recovery is possible.  The event will include an art exhibit, panel discussion featuring artists whose work will be on display, a collaborative art project and the Building Bridges Award.  Peter Bruun, founder and director of the New Day Campaign, will receive the award for his work challenging stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness and addiction in hopes of making the world a more healing place.

The Coalition for Mental Health Awareness is comprised of providers, community education and advocacy groups as well as interested community members.  They are working to raise public awareness of mental illness and recovery, and reduce stigma through education and outreach.

The event is free and open to the public!

When: May 19th, 2016

Time: 1-5 p.m.

Location: American Visionary Art Museum, Jim Rouse Visionary Center 3rd Floor Banquet Room

Address: 800 Key Highway, Baltimore, MD 21230

If you would like to showcase your artwork at the event, view the submission guidelines and other important information here.

For more information, please contact Kari Gorkos at or Katerina Evans at


May is Mental Health Awareness Month

This is a recognition that has been observed since 1949 when the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) was created under President Truman.  The impetus behind this act was the return of the large number of traumatized soldiers after World War II.  Suddenly a very large cross section of young American men fell under psychiatric scrutiny.  Many did not recover quickly from their traumas, and many others were identified as having preexisting conditions prior to going off to war. As a country we found ourselves learning things about mental health and mental illness among the American population we had never known before, and the issue of stigma came with this knowledge.

Why so much stigma?  Many reasons of course.  Humans are social animals by nature, following complex social hierarchies which at one point in time informed our chances of survival. We are hard wired to read social cues and make quick judgments.  Our brains recognize the human form faster than other familiar shapes, we identify differences, and we identify patterns.  A person with mental illness can behave in a way outside of the usual norms and patterns.  However, so do many others – artists and creative types, rebels and innovators, leaders, freethinkers, and trailblazers.  In the modern age, difference has become a strength.  And in the age of self-improvement it has become about how to find the beauty in one’s individuality while thriving together as a community.  But mental illness often impairs one’s ability to thrive and to come together.  So, while the fear is no longer needed, help and support still are.

Mental health awareness is a movement that was created to reduce unnecessary fear and allow those who need help to more readily access it.  This happens by bringing more information to more people in a variety of ways. The basic message is this:

  • Mental health is essential to everyone’s overall health and well-being;
  • All Americans experience times of difficulty and stress in their lives;
  • Promotion and prevention are effective in reducing the burden of mental health conditions;
  • With effective treatment, individuals with mental health conditions can recover and lead full, productive lives;
  • All people have a responsibility to promote mental wellness and support prevention efforts.


So, once a year, we devote a month to shining a light on how this can happen.  This year’s theme is called “B4Stage4” and refers to how people can address their mental health early, rather than waiting until it progresses and symptoms worsen (“stage 4”), making recovery a longer and more challenging process.  The best way to do this is to get more people screened for mental illness, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress. It also means making healthy choices to stay healthy.  These choices include maintaining social connections, eating healthy foods, recognizing and managing stress with relaxation, getting proper rest, exercising, and avoiding things that might be problematic like drugs, alcohol, and recklessness.  Prevention is key, and we can all identify areas where we or are loved ones are doing well and areas in which we could improve.


This May, let’s make a New May Resolution to support our mental health and the mental health of those around us to create a ripple effect of well-being.  Go give someone a hug, or tell someone thank you, or give yourself permission for forgiveness or a moment of joy.  And then let’s see if we can carry it throughout the year.

– Barbara Wahl


Taking Flight’s “Body of Art” project showcases tattoos as a powerful art form at MCMHA’s “The Power of Secret: Sharing Truth Through Art” event


Taking Flight is the Maryland Coalition of Families’ youth advisory council, and each year we run a state wide anti-stigma art project. These projects are comprised of submissions from youth and young adults across the state with varying backgrounds and perspectives. In May, these art projects are revealed at the Maryland Coalition for Mental Health Awareness’s art event at American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM), and are then displayed through our website year round. It is always amazing to see how youth and young adults take our art project prompt (quilt piece, photo, etc) and come back with such moving and powerful pieces. This year, we decided to use a prompt that many youth and young adults already use for themselves: tattoos.

While tattoos are slowly becoming more accepted in the general population, no group has made use of this art form more than youth and young adults. Whether we need to commemorate a journey, honor someone we lost, or simply show the world who we really are beneath our skin, tattoos are a powerful tool to do so. That is why our project this year, named Body of Art, will be using images of tattoos from youth and young adults across the state to start a conversation about the struggles that we face.

For more information on the Body of Art project, and to see previous years anti stigma projects, go to

“Show me a man with a tattoo, and I’ll show you a man with an interesting past” –Jack London

“Mental Illness is America’s Secret”: An interview with Frank Warren of PostSecret


Frank Warren is the creator of The PostSecret Project, a community art project that invites individuals to send their secrets anonymously on artfully decorated post cards to be shared online. Since November 2004, Warren has received over 1 million postcards revealing hidden fears, beliefs, and habits of people around the world, reflecting a world of secrets that remain untold. 
The Maryland Coalition for Mental Health Awareness will present Frank with the Building Bridges Award at the May 7 event.  His work with has helped reduce stigma and foster the sharing of secrets among millions of American’s youth.

Kari:  How did you start PostSecret? 

Frank:  In 2004, I started inviting people to anonymously mail me postcards.  It started as a way for me to help uncover the secrets I’d been keeping myself.  There are two types of secrets: 1) Those we keep from others, and 2) those we keep from ourselves.

Kari:  What did you do before PostSecret?

Frank:  I was an Information Broker at the Library of Medicine.  It was a boring job.  Starting PostSecret has been such a gift to me.  It is an honor to give a voice to the unheard secret or story.

Kari:  Are the postcards you have received organized or categorized?

Frank:  No, that is the beauty of it!

Kari:  How has PostSecret changed the way you think about mental health?

Frank:  I have realized that we all have pain and suffering and this a way to let people share that.  I struggled with mental wellness in my lifetime and even volunteered at a hotline for years.

Kari: Did you ever think that the postcards would be so artistic?

Frank:  This has been a real surprise for me!  All of the artwork is amazing.  The ritual of sharing a secret with PostSecret has been very profound.  The painstaking artwork that goes in to these cards is unbelievable.

Kari:  What are your future plans with PostSecret?

Frank:  My newest (6th) book has just been released and I’m touring the United States and Canada.  We have a production underway called PostSecret: The Show and we are in talks with the Smithsonian about a display of postcards.  We also just developed an App called Post Secret Universe and we have been using a lot more videos to showcase the PostSecret world.  I plan to listen to the project and follow where it leads.

Kari:  Anything else you would like to share?

Frank:  Everybody has a secret that could break your heart.  This project has developed into a beautiful conversation and I hope it is helping to make everyone more compassionate and empathetic.  Mental illness is America’s secret.  It is the secret we keep that prevents us from asking for the help we need.

Mental health awareness through the arts: how the MCMHA art event became a key event for Mental Health Awareness Month in Maryland

It seems like only yesterday that a group of dedicated stakeholders of the mental health community came together to answer the question: ”What is the Maryland mental health provider community and its stakeholders doing to participate in Mental Health Awareness month every May?” Three years ago, the slate was blank. Stigma is the largest barrier to treatment and funding for mental health issues, and these stakeholders were determined to bring these issues to the public eye through the arts. From there, a brainstorming session occurred which sparked the creation of the Maryland Coalition for Mental Health Awareness, comprised of the Mental Hygiene Administration (now Behavioral Health Administration), the Community Behavioral Health Association, the Mental Health Association of Maryland, the Maryland National Alliance for Mental Illness, and On Our Own of Maryland.

The Maryland Coalition for Mental Health Awareness now celebrates Mental Health Awareness Month with an art event showcasing the artistic abilities of behavioral health consumers to eradicate stigma surrounding behavioral health disorders. The American Visionary Art Museum, now known as the AVAM, was chosen as the location for the event due to its open arms to mental health issues. Back in 1984, Museum Founder and former Development Director of People Encouraging People, Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, had the idea for a unique new museum and education center that emphasized intuitive creative invention and grassroots genius. Her dedication to behavioral health advocacy and her willingness to allow behavioral health consumers to show their artwork in her museum made the AVAM a perfect match for the Coalition’s art event.

The members of the Coalition were excited to see over 1000 people attend the first event and were honored to name Hoffberger as the first Bridges Award recipient for her amazing work to bring about mental health awareness in Maryland. Now in our third year, we are excited to give that award to Frank Warren for his innovative work at A resident of Maryland, his work on bullying, the power of holding on to secrets, and their impact on mental health has awarded him this year’s Bridges Award.

Dimitri Cavathas

Dimitri Cavathas presenting Rebecca Hoffberger with the MCMHA Art Event’s first Building Bridges Award.

We cannot wait to see everyone May 7th!

Dimitri Cavathas, Committee Member of MCMHA

MCMHA’s 3rd Annual Art Event!

The Maryland Coalition for Mental Health Awareness is busy planning it’s 3rd Annual Art Event.  The theme for 2015 is The Power of Secrets: Sharing Truth Through Art.  The event will be held May 7, 2015 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the American Visionary Art Museum.

The Coalition for Mental Health Awareness is comprised of providers, community education and advocacy groups as well as interested community members. We are working to raise public awareness of mental illness and recovery, and reduce stigma through education and outreach.  The event will feature artwork from artists across Maryland’s community mental health and peer support programs.  It is our desire to show what recovery means from the eyes of consumers living with mental illness every day and to show others that recovery is possible.

We are thrilled to announce that the Coalition will be presenting our annual Building Bridges Award to Frank Warren of PostSecret.  Frank’s work so often closely ties art and mental health/illness together. He will have copies of his latest book available for signing and plans to do a multi-media presentation at the event.

The Maryland Coalition for Mental Health Awareness is comprised of the Community Behavioral Health Association of Maryland, On Our Own of Maryland, NAMI Maryland, the Mental Health Association of Maryland, the Maryland Coalition of Families for Children’s Mental Health, the Mental Hygiene Administration and many dedicated community members. We are working to raise public awareness of mental illness and recovery, and reduce stigma through education and outreach.

Learn more about this event by visiting our web page.  The event is free and open to the public!