October 1, 2013 8:34 am
Updated: October 4, 2013 7:09 pm

Toronto film explores the power of art in mental health treatment

A new documentary hopes to shed light on mental health illnesses and how art and community can help those who live with mental illness, homelessness, addiction and poverty.

Jennifer Laiwint / Creative Works Studio
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TORONTO – A new documentary hopes to shed light on mental health illnesses and how art and community can help those who live with mental illness, homelessness, addiction and poverty.

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Filmed over the course of a year, What’s Art Got to Do With It? follows the lives of five people who sought support through Toronto’s Creative Works Studio—a facility that provides healing and recovery through the arts for people living with severe and persistent mental illness and addictions.

Through the program, members often use a form of art, such as painting, photography or songwriting, as an outlet for thoughts and emotions that they may otherwise have difficulty expressing.

Isabel Fryszberg, an occupation therapist and the creative lead of Creative Works Studio, said she hopes the film will help people better understand mental health and the different ways that art can help individuals.

“Art isn’t a luxury, it’s something that we need,” said Fryszberg. “It’s important to have a space that is creative, stocked with resources and friendly because together it creates a place of health.”

The documentary was directed and produced by Fryszberg and co-produced by Dr. Janet Parsons, a research scientist in the Applied Health Research Centre of St. Michael’s Hospital.

Despite being open for 14 years, Fryszberg said that in order to make the documentary, Creative Works had to be a place where members could feel safe.

“It’s interesting to actually get members commitment to something like this – it takes a lot of trust,” she said. “Having a place that they [the members] can trust, where they are not judged, evaluated and where they are encouraged to go for their potential and where their potential is recognized, supported and heard—it’s all therapeutic.”

Fryszberg said that art has always had an influence in her life.

“As a kid, art was the cheapest toy,” she said. “It was something that enlightened me. It was something that  I could create into this wonderful world that was something more than the world around me. It was magical. It was restorative.”

Geared at those 20 years of age and older, Fryszberg hopes the Creative Works program can show adults that there are constant opportunities for them to pursue.

“There are these opportunities that are given to five-year-olds in kindergarten,” said Fryszberg.  “They are often given a sandbox, a piano or an easel and are told they can do and be what they want. But as they get older, it’s suddenly all over.”

“We are creating this adult kindergarten where you have this chance for a second life.”

What’s Art Got to Do With It? will be screened Tuesday October 1 at the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto.

© 2013 Shaw Media

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