Unique Vancouver art program saved by anonymous donor

Clients of a unique art program, put on the chopping block last month by Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH), are now breathing a sigh of relief.

The Art Studios Program, aimed at helping people with mental health and addiction issues has been run by VCH for the past decade, but after the latest round of cost-cutting, was set to lose its funding in August.

A private, anonymous donor has now come forward with a donation of more than $208,000, enough to fund the program until the end of March next year. The studio, which employs three occupational therapists, costs $357,000 to operate annually. It offers about a dozen classes per week, and one day of open studio time.

“This is probably the best outcome that we could have asked for, which was a private donor to come forward and support the Art Studios,” says Andrew MacFarlane, the director of Mental Health and Addiction services for VCH. “[The donor] knew the value that this is an important part of clients’ recovery journey.”
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Jules Kerr is one of 530 clients registered for the program, some of whom use the program only sporadically, others multiple times per week.

Kerr was diagnosed with bipolar disorder six years ago, and started taking part in the Art Studios Program two years ago. “[Before the program] I’d lost contact with all but one of my friends, I didn’t see anybody, I didn’t go out, I didn’t listen to music even and that used to be a huge part of my life, I didn’t really do anything,” she says.
Now, after two years in the program, she says the experience has been invaluable. “I became a member very quickly of a family. I can talk to these fellow members about anything, I can talk to them about my mental health if I’m having a bad day I can cry to some of them, or the [occupational therapists].”

After the cuts were announced, Jules and a handful of other clients lobbied and even rallied to save the studios.

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Now that their efforts have paid off, Jules says she’s relieved. “I’m grateful, so grateful… that someone had a passion for the arts and passion for helping mental health.”

VCH says they never doubted the program was effective, but thinks it can just as easily be operated by private funding in the community.

When the cuts were announced MacFarlane says VCH immediately tried to find private, or community funding for the studio, and before this new funding runs out next year, he says they’ll continue looking for a long-term, sustainable model to keep the program afloat.

Until then, Kerr and the other clients say they’re optimistic, and if need be will lobby to keep the Studios open once again.

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