November 29, 2010
Lucille and Nigel Bart run Artbeat in downtown Winnipeg

PRAIRIE MESSENGER PHOTO

Lucille and Nigel Bart run Artbeat in downtown Winnipeg

JAMES BUCHOK
PRIAIRE MESSENGER

WINNIPEG — Art can challenge the stigma and discrimination experienced by the mentally ill and aid in their recovery, says a Winnipeg artist diagnosed with schizophrenia.

In 2005 Nigel Bart founded ArtBeat Studio in Winnipeg's Exchange District with seven artists, each given free studio space for six months, ending with a show and sale of their works.

Nigel's mother, who has extensive experience in production, marketing and teaching, serves as Artbeat's executive director.

Lucille Bart said the creative experience engages the whole person and takes place in relationships with others.

"Art has the power to affect personal change and societal attitudes and break down stigma. Art is an effective approach to mental health treatment at a grassroots level," she said.

In 1994, as a university student, Nigel was diagnosed with a mental illness after two years of "troubled thinking and behaving in bizarre ways."

He left university and moved to the family farm near Morris, Man., where Lucille operated a pottery business. Working in the pottery studio, he began his recovery.

"I began finding hope. Loss of hope is devastating in people with mental illness, " Nigel recalled in a Nov. 9 talk.

"I found my hope in small activities like doing my personal banking, getting a haircut, normal things that people take for granted that can become very important pieces of hope."

He was able to finish art school in 1999 and, while there, created a work of performance art which he later produced as a video.

It describes the stereotypes society places on the mentally ill and how it causes the victims to suffer "withdrawal, guilt, anger, loss of opportunity, love, relationships, dignity; there is poverty and substandard, unsafe housing."

Nigel says thanks to his supportive family he did not suffer the worst of the negative effects of mental illness.