Circuit Adult Drug/Veterans Treatment Court
Through July 16
Gallery at Creative Pinellas
The most common question I get when I tell people I’m an author is, “Why do you write?”
I assume other artists get it a lot too. They just have to field slightly altered questions like, “Why do you draw?” or, “Why do you make sculptures?”
It’s a fair question, and it isn’t one with an easy answer. Afterall, there are a lot of reasons we do things creatively. Sometimes it’s simply out of habit. Sometimes it’s to feel productive. Sometimes it’s because there’s simply nothing better to do.
But when I really reflect on it, I write because it makes me feel better.
I think that’s the driving force behind the reason humans are artistic. It feels good to get things out creatively. From the beginning of time we’ve been telling stories around fires and before that we were making cave paintings so our walls didn’t look so bleak.
And I think the new exhibit of Art in Recovery gives us a glimpse into this primal feeling we get from creativity.
The Sixth Judicial Circuit Court allows non-violent drug offenders who are veterans to complete various challenges in the hopes this will help improve mental and physical health. Creating visual art was one of those challenges – and the walls are lined with quotes, art and statistics that I found surprising. This one is on the wall right as you walk in.
The judge who started this program, Judge Kimberly Todd, said she wanted the participants to feel calm and supported during their recovery journey. This resonated with me, as I have friends who have, and several who are currently, struggling with addiction.
It feels like when we penalize people and send non-violent drug offenders to jail, they don’t get better. What I see is that the system just resets over and over again. They go to jail, they get out of jail, and then they start using drugs again. Before you know it, they’re back in front of the judge for the same drugs and the same reason.
The system we have isn’t working for so many people. And keep in mind, these are just people from my life that I know from school, and they aren’t people who experienced war or loss like the veterans in this program have. How can we expect anything to get better without programs like this one – that try to incorporate emotion and hurt through artistic expression?
When I walked into that section of the gallery at Creative Pinellas, I immediately felt engaged. The art is raw. It’s a mixed bag of people who seem to make visual art regularly, and people who haven’t done anything like this in their adult lives.
As I made my way through the gallery, I took pictures of the pieces that really caught my eye, and I found myself returning to them multiple times.
It is a mix of emotions for every photo I took. Some of it feels good, like the artist knows things are going to be ok. Others seemed to have a more negative outlook. Occasionally, I’m not sure, and I doubt that the artists themselves are sure.
That’s the story of Art in Recovery! That’s why it works. It isn’t about painters, or sculptures, or writers. It’s about people trying to express themselves and use art as therapy.
On the wall hangs a quote from one of the artists, Maria – “Creating Art helped me to access parts of myself that I had been suppressing through substance abuse.”
In conjunction with the quotes are the pieces themselves from all sorts of artistic disciplines. There are talented woodworkers, and I genuinely don’t know how some of it was created.
There are dark drawings done as veterans reflect upon their time spent in addiction in pieces like Out of Control, Silent Scream and Mirror Image: A Portrait of Before and After Addiction.
There are paintings with various tones. From seemingly silly, to dark, to contemplative, to just visually stunning.
There’s even poetry –
I Am ME But Am I FREE ?….
Handcuffed and sent to a place i NEVER wanted be…
LET MY GIRLS DOWN I SEE…
I Am ME But Am I FREE?.
DC # , ORANGE JUMPSUIT AND A PHOTO of me i never thought i’d SEE!!!!! thankful to be free but AM I FREE? I’m HUMAN, am i PERFECT?
NO… a drug addict they see, ONE mistake controlling me but I am me, AM I FREE? While confused, but yet still i don’t want to be nobody but ME!!!! I am me, BUT AM I FREE? I had to go through it to see those DRUGS i didn’t NEED…
NOW i’m a better ME for ME, For THEM… I AM ME! DRUG FREE IS (ME) I AM FREEEEEE !!
AM I FREE?
Then there were pieces I wasn’t even sure how to categorize, but I also felt drawn to.
When I was leaving, I asked the woman at the front desk what people had been saying about the Gallery at Creative Pinellas. She said the responses have been varied. The 2023 Emerging Artist exhibit feels polished and full of artists who are trying to make art a career – people who are coming into their art discipline and trying to establish themselves as professionals in the community.
However, the response she gets to Art in Recovery is more touching. She said that people tend to leave that gallery feeling like they took something away from the Art in Recovery that they didn’t take away from the Emerging Artist Gallery.
There is something in all of these pieces that makes you feel what the person was going through.
I want to revisit the question I wrote in the beginning of this story.
Why did we spend time and resources painting on cave walls? Why did we learn long poems and songs before we could write them down? Why does every generation find ways to be creative?
It’s because we, as human beings, have a need to express ourselves. Writing to feel better isn’t unique to me – countless people journal and create characters and stories because it makes them feel less stressed and happier.
It’s clear this art challenge had positive effects. Not all of these veterans will become regular artists, but I’m sure some will, and who knows the positive effects that can happen when we start encouraging people to create things to deal with inner pain. Art therapy is something that touches people, with some studies saying that it helped improve mental health in over 80% of participants.
Since this experience, I have been more cognizant of how I feel before and after I write. I have always known it makes me feel better after a tough day, but now I really try to focus on how I feel emotionally before and after.
The exercise has been helpful. I’m sure for years, the change has been subconscious. But now that I’m paying attention, I have noticed I’m in a better mood and I feel more patient and understanding.
And I hope these veterans felt the same way after they finished this challenge.
Gallery at Creative Pinellas
12211 Walsingham Rd,
Largo FL 33778
Wednesday–Sunday, Noon to 5 pm